May 23, 2013
South Koreans on landmine alert after deadly mudslides
South Koreans were cautioned about rogue landmines and explosives today after a series of deadly landslides in and around the capital Seoul swamped military sites, defense officials said.
At least 67 people are dead or missing from the landslides and flashfloods caused by the heaviest rainfalls in a century to hit the Seoul region, home to about 25 million people.
The damage bill is expected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Defense Ministry said about 10 landmines buried near an air defense artillery unit on a mountain in southern Seoul had not been recovered after a mudslide in the area smashed into dozens of homes yesterday.
The mines were placed during 1950-53 Korean War. Explosives were also swept from an ammunition depot in Yangju, north of Seoul, when it collapsed under the weight of a mudslide. A military official said that all the explosives, including dozens of landmines, had been recovered.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered units to check for any misplaced explosives in the affected regions.
The microblog forum Twitter was abuzz with anxious chatter about the lost landmines.
As more rain battered the mountainous region today, authorities drafted in the military to help with rescue and clean-up operations. "We have asked the Defense Ministry and police to help because the torrential rains and floods need to be controlled in cooperative nationwide system," an emergency services spokesman said.
More than half a metre (19.5 inches) of rain has fallen in the Seoul region since late Tuesday, the weather bureau said, in the heaviest deluge for July since 1907.
Power outages hit Seoul again today, including a cut in a business district, but the financial services industry and market trading were not affected. The storms also hit secretive North Korea, but there were no immediate reports of damage in its state media. Experts are worried about landslides, as the eroded hillsides are unstable.
A rescue operation was underway at a Buddhist monastery in Dongducheon, northeast of the capital, where a girl was believed buried under a mudslide. Three others were killed. Dozens of landslides were reported around Seoul and streams turned into raging torrents, flooding low-lying areas and swamping thousands of cars.
Some bridges over the main Han River, which runs through the centre of the city, were closed. Train services were also disrupted. Authorities said today more than 4,500 people had been forced out of their homes and many houses were without power.
Emergency services put the death toll at 53, with 14 people missing.