South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol blamed the inability of authorities to follow disaster response guidelines on Monday, as the death toll from days of severe rain rose to 39, including a dozen individuals discovered dead in a submerged subway.
Rains have lashed the country’s central and southern regions since Thursday, as the rainy season, which began in late June, nears its end. In addition, the interior ministry reported nine persons missing and 34 injured around the country.
Twelve people were killed in a tunnel in the central city of Cheongju, where 16 cars, including a bus, were flooded by a flash flood on Saturday after a river levee broke. Nine other people were injured.
The incident raised concerns about South Korea’s attempts to avoid and respond to flood damage. Some vehicles that use the road have accused the authorities of neglecting to prohibit access to the underpass despite widespread forecasts of flooding.
Floods have claimed the lives of dozens of people in recent rainy seasons as weather patterns have become more catastrophic.
Last year, the government committed to take efforts to better prepare for climate-change-related disasters after the biggest downpours in 115 years pummelling Seoul, including the fashionable area of Gangnam, killing at least 14 people and flooding subways, roads, and homes.
Yoon, who had just returned from a trip abroad, convened an intra-agency conference on disaster response on Monday, saying the situation was exacerbated by poor management of sensitive locations.
“We’ve repeatedly emphasized access control over dangerous areas and preemptive evacuation since last year, but it’s difficult to ensure public safety if basic principles of disaster response are not kept on the spot,” Yoon told the gathering.
He urged authorities to make every effort to rescue casualties and pledged help for recovery efforts and impacted families, including the designation of flood-stricken areas as special disaster zones.