Typhoon Maemi kills 42 in South Korea

SEOUL (AFP) 12 September 2003 - Powerful winds and heavy rains wrought devastation across South Korea  as one of the most powerful typhoons to ravage the country for years left at least 42 dead and 24 missing.

Typhoon Maemi crashed into the South Korea's southern provinces before dawn, bringing record-breaking 215 kilometer (135 mile) per hour winds that triggered deadly landslides and floods.

Trains were derailed and ships pulverised by high winds as more than a million households were plunged into darkness. Thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes as the high winds tore through the region.

"It was the most powerful typhoon in terms of wind speed since we began compiling weather records in 1904," said Yoon Seok-hwan, an official at the Korea Metrological Administration.

The death toll was expected to rise as communications were restored with remote regions. Unconfirmed reports put the casualty figure at 61.

As the typhoon howled into the southern port of Busan, strong gusts toppled seven giant cranes weighing up to 985 tonnes, KBS television said.

A giant floating oil rig under construction in the southeastern port of Ulsan was swept away by high waves.

It strayed into the nearby Hyundai Mipo shipyard, smashing against a huge semi-constructed petrochemical carrier, a spokesman of Hyundai Mipo told AFP by phone. Both vessels suffered serious damage, he said.

"We may have to rebuild the petrochemical carrier. We need to consult with the owner," he said, adding that the ship was ordered by an unidentified German company.

Five nuclear power plants in southeastern counties of Kori and Wolseong had to halt operations after their power transmission lines were knocked out.

"The problem was with the power transmission system, not with the nuclear power generating system," Shin Bo-Kyun, a spokesman for the state utility's atomic power generating operations, told Yonhap news agency.

In Busan a firefighter lost his leg and four of his colleagues were injured when a construction crane collapsed on a fire truck, reports said.

A 50-year-old man died after he was blown off the terrace of his Busan house and smashed his head on the ground. Two others were electrocuted in separate incidents in Busan when power lines were snapped by gusting winds.

In Jeju, a sailor died after his leg was severed by a rope as he was trying to moor his barge.

An unconfirmed report said some 10 people were trapped in a flooded basement karaoke bar in the southeastern city of Masan with rescuers desperately pumpeing away flood water to reach them.

A train was derailed by a landslide in the central province of North Chungcheong early on Saturday, injuring 28.

Television pictures showed wreckages of crumpled giant cranes, overturned cars submerged in raging muddy waters, wrecked ships and damaged roads, bridges and railways.

Rising waters, landslides and power blackouts, forced some 2,000 people to evacuate in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Gangweon and Gyeongsang and the southern island of Jeju.

Some 1.34 million households in southern Gyeongsang Province suffered from power failure, the Central Anti-Disaster Headquarters said.

Typhoon Maemi, meaning cicada in Korean, swept through the east coast and off into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) early Saturday. It later weakened to a tropical storm, weather authorities said.

One person died and at least 93 people were injured Friday when the storm as ripped through Japan's southern Okinawa islands.


Typhoon Lashes South Korea, Killing 62

By VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press Writer 13 September 2003

SEOUL, South Korea - A typhoon lashed coastal South Korea  with a fury unseen in a century, lifting shipping containers in the air, toppling gigantic cranes and flipping a cruise ship on its side. At least 62 people were killed and 25 missing by the time the storm subsided Saturday.

Typhoon Maemi hit the southeastern coast Friday night with gale winds blowing at a record 135 miles per hour before weakening into a tropical storm Saturday. More than 24,900 people fled their homes to seek shelter in schools and public facilities, said the National Disaster Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters, or NDPCH.

Vast tracts of farmlands, cities and rivers were flooded as Maemi Korean for the insect cicada dumped rainfall of up to 17.8 inches.

Maemi is "by far the most powerful typhoon since we began compiling weather records in 1904," said Yoon Seok-hwan, an official at the Korea Meteorological Administration. He said Maemi's wind speed was the fastest ever, topping the 129.6 mph record set by Typhoon Prapiroon in 2000.

Maemi triggered landslides in several places, one of which derailed an express train from Seoul to the southern city of Andong on Saturday, injuring 28 people.

The NDPCH said at least 62 people drowned or died because of landslides, electrocution and other causes. It said 25 more were missing and feared dead.

In Busan, the nation's second-largest city and its main port, 11 container-lifting cranes, each weighing as much as 900 tons, were toppled, their green and red steel limbs twisted beyond recognition. Steel containers as long as 20 feet were scattered around the port.

At a beach, a cruise ship-turned-floating hotel that had been evacuated earlier flipped over and lay on its side in shallow water. At least 18 other empty fishing boats capsized. Elsewhere, a construction crane collapsed on a fire engine, injuring five firefighters.

Highway road signs were uprooted and fell on vehicles. The few cars that ventured on the roads were buffeted by strong winds as they moved cautiously with headlights and hazard lights on. Thousands of people who had been visiting their hometowns on the southern islands for the annual thanksgiving Chuseok holiday since Wednesday were stranded as high swells kept ferries from operating.

Navy divers searched flooded areas for victims, and soldiers used buckets to scoop out water from underground parking lots. Military helicopters were used to rescue stranded people and transport emergency supplies.

Five of the nation's 18 nuclear power plants were shut after their main current transformers or power lines were damaged by the typhoon, the NDPCH said. It said no radiation leakage was reported.

About 20 major factories in Ulsan and Onsan cities on the southeast coast, including two major oil refineries, were forced to temporarily halt operations, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said. Prime Minister Goh Kun convened a meeting of ministers to plan for repairing the damage.

The NDPCH said the typhoon initially caused blackouts in 1.4 million households, but power was restored to 1 million homes. It said 12,626 acres of farmland and many roads, including some highways, were flooded.

The power outage partially paralyzed fixed-line and cellular phone networks, with electricity cut off or disrupted at the country's three mobile phone operators and the dominant telephone company, KT.

South Korea is usually hit by a couple of typhoons each summer and early fall. In September last year, Typhoon Rusa left at least 119 dead. The most devastating typhoon ever to hit South Korea was Sara, which killed 849 people in 1959.

Sara and Maemi took roughly the same route across South Korea, but Sara took a heavier toll because the country was ill-prepared for the disaster at that time.

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