A powerful typhoon that killed at least 10 people in South Korea hit the North early on Wednesday, knocking down hundreds of trees, destroying power cables and causing blackouts in a country already struggling to rebuild from earlier flooding.
Big rainstorms often mean catastrophe in North Korea because of poor drainage, deforestation and decrepit infrastructure, but the extent of wind and rain damage in the country wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday. Pyongyang, the capital, saw strong winds but little apparent damage. Cars splashed through slightly flooded streets, spraying people on crowded sidewalks.
Typhoon Bolaven began pummeling the North late on Tuesday, on the country’s first Youth Day since new leader Kim Jong Un took over in December. Weather officials had warned that it would be the strongest typhoon to hit the region in several years, but its gusts in other parts of Asia weren’t as powerful as predicted.
In South Korea, Bolaven left hundreds of thousands without power, canceled flights and temporarily halted joint war games by US and South Korean military forces. The storm also churned up rough seas that smashed two fishing ships into rocks off southern Jeju island, killing five people and leaving 10 missing.
Dangerous waves kept rescue vessels from approaching the wrecked Chinese fishing ships. The coast guard used a special gun to shoot rope to one ship so officers could pull themselves over and bring the fishermen back to shore, coast guard spokesman Ko Chang-keon said.
The coast guard rescued 12 fishermen, and six others swam or were washed ashore.
The storm killed at least five other people across South Korea. A large container box crushed an apartment janitor to death, a woman fell to her death from a rooftop and another person died after bricks hit a house, according to disaster and fire officials. An 80-year-old man died after a small makeshift building fell on him, officials said, and another man was killed by a falling tree.
About 1.9 million South Korean homes and businesses lost power, the National Emergency Management Agency said, though all but about 34,000 had electricity restored by Wednesday morning. Nearly 100 families were left homeless on Wednesday because of floods or storm damage. Nearly 200 flights were canceled Tuesday, but airports were running normally on Wednesday. There were 860 hectares of farmland flooded and 32 ships damaged, the agency said in a statement.
The storm came as North Korea tries to help people with food, shelter, health care and clean water after heavy flooding in July, according to a recent United Nations situation report. More than 170 died nationwide, and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in the floods, according to official North Korean accounts.
Many flood victims still live in tents with limited access to water and other basic facilities, the U.N. report said, and there is worry about increased malnutrition in coming weeks.