Rain hits N. Korea, many casualties, 10,000 homeless

TOKYO, Reuters

Heavy rainfall has battered North Korea in the last few days, causing scores of casualties and leaving more than 10,000 people homeless, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Saturday. The torrential rainfall is the latest in a series of natural calamities that have ravaged North Korea since 1995, causing widespread famine in the isolated Stalinist state that has for several years now relied on foreign aid to feed its people.

Scores of casualties had been reported and more than 10,000 people had been left homeless, KCNA said but gave no specific figures for a number of dead.

The heavy rain followed a drought that had lasted more than 100 days, and total damage was estimated at tens of billions of dollars, said KCNA, monitored in Tokyo.

“According to a preliminary estimate, more than 24,000 hectares (59,300 acres) of arable land and thousands of flats and hundreds of public buildings were submerged or destroyed,” it said.

The news comes as North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il has arrived in Moscow, after a nine-day train journey across Russia, to meet President Vladimir Putin for talks expected to focus on trade relations.

The full extent of the damage was still not known because many roads, railways and bridges were destroyed and landslides and floods had severed communications, KCNA said in an unusually detailed report.

In some areas of North Korea, the rain in just three to five days amounted to 50 to 70 percent of the average annual rainfall, and in some areas the damage was so bad that no harvest was expected, KCNA said.

The downpours that swept regions along both the east and west coasts dumped 661 mm (26.02 inches) of rain on Phyonggang county in Kangwon province, 622.5 mm (24.51 inches) on Paechon county in South Hwanghae province, 555 mm (21.85 inches) in Yonan county in South Hwanghae province and 495 mm (19.49 inches) in Kaesong city, KCNA said.

In some areas, the rain triggered landslides that destroyed houses or left whole townships submerged in 1.5 meters (5 feet) of water.

“Damage by torrential rain is severer than that in 1999,” it said, referring to devastation wreaked by bad weather two years ago.

Typhoon Olga hit North Korea in late July and early August in 1999, submerging more than 40,000 hectares (98,840 acres) of farmland, KCNA said at the time.