North Korea’s Kim urges quick recovery from typhoon damage

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for urgent efforts to rebuild thousands of homes and other structures destroyed by a typhoon that slammed the country’s eastern region last week, state media said Wednesday.

Kim during the Workers’ Party meeting Tuesday also said the damage from Typhoon Maysak has forced the country to reconsider unspecified year-end projects, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

The storm has inflicted further pain on an economy already ravaged by U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons program, border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic and unusually heavy summer flooding that likely worsened the country’s chronic food shortages.

KCNA said Maysak left “severe damage” in the eastern town of Komdok, destroying or flooding more than 2,000 homes and dozens of public buildings and paralyzing transport systems. More than 60 kilometers (37 miles) of roads in the region were “washed away,” while 59 bridges collapsed. Several miles of railroads were damaged in mining areas, the report said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Kim described the recovery efforts at Komdok a national priority to revive “important arteries of the national economy,” and ordered that the rebuilding of homes, roads and railways be completed by Oct. 10, when the ruling party celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding.

During another political conference last month, Kim displayed unusual candor by acknowledging that his plans to improve the country’s dismal economy aren’t succeeding. During that meeting, the ruling party scheduled a rare congress in January to set development goals for the next five years.

The high-profile government meetings and mobilizing of the military and Pyongyang elites are examples of Kim’s responsiveness but the damage is testing state capacity and resources, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“The political risk to Kim of failing to deliver promised reconstruction may be limited, but an accumulation of economic failures will strain his regime,” Easley said.

KCNA said an unspecified number of party members left Pyongyang on trains Tuesday to help the recovery efforts in typhoon-hit areas. Trucks carrying construction tools and other supplies were also headed to such sites, the agency said.

Kim had visited typhoon-stricken areas in the country’s northeast over the weekend. Experts say Kim is likely trying to project an image of a leader looking after his people’s livelihoods as he seeks to bolster internal unity in face of economic setbacks and U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.