The most powerful typhoon to hit South Korea in years battered its southern region Tuesday, dumping almost a meter (3 feet) of rain, destroying roads and felling power lines, leaving 20,000 homes without electricity as thousands of people fled to safer ground.
Typhoon Hinnamnor grazed the resort island of Jeju and made landfall near the mainland port of Busan in the morning and was moving northeast toward the sea with winds of up to 144 kilometers (89 miles) per hour. It is on track to move closer to eastern China later in the week, after ferry services in eastern China and flights in Japan were suspended in previous days.
South Korean officials put the nation on alert about potential damages from flooding, landslides and tidal waves unleashed by Hinnamnor, which came just weeks after heavy rains in the region around the capital Seoul caused flooding that killed at least 14 people.
Prime Minister Han Duk-soo called for evacuations in areas vulnerable to flooding, saying Hinnamnor could end up being a “historically strong typhoon that we never experienced before.”
The storm dumped more than 94 centimeters (37 inches) of rain in central Jeju since Sunday, where winds peaked at 155 kph (96 mph).
A 25-year-old man was missing after falling into a rain-swollen stream in the southern city of Ulsan, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, which didn’t immediately report more casualties. Fires were reported at a major steel plant operated by POSCO in the southern city of Pohang, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether they were caused by the storm.
The Safety Ministry said more than 3,400 people in the southern regions were forced to evacuate from their homes because of safety concerns and that officials were advising or ordering 14,000 more people to evacuate. At least five homes and buildings were flooded or destroyed, and scores of roads were damaged.
More than 600 schools were closed or converted to online classes. More than 250 flights and 70 ferry services were grounded while more than 66,000 fishing boats evacuated to ports. Workers as of 6 a.m. managed to restore electricity to 2,795 of the 20,334 households that were knocked out of power.
A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, said officials were investigating the cause of the fires at POSCO’s Pohang plant, where firefighters were working to extinguish flames that damaged at least three facilities at the complex.
Lim Yoon-sook, an official from the North Gyeongsang province fire department, said the flames destroyed a building housing electricity equipment and were continuing to burn through a separate office building, although workers were close to extinguishing a smaller fire at a cokes factory.
In North Korea, state media reported “all-out efforts” to minimize damage from flooding and landslides. The Korean Central News Agency reported leader Kim Jong Un during government meetings had issued unspecified “detailed tasks” to improve the country’s disaster response capacity but it didn’t elaborate on the plans.
North Korea sustained serious damage from heavy rains and floods in 2020 that destroyed buildings, roads and crops, shocking the country’s already-crippled economy.