Tropical storm triggers floods, evacuations in South Korea after lashing Japan

By Hyonhee Shin, Minwoo Park and Elaine Lies

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) -South Korea authorities evacuated more than 14,000 people and closed schools in flood-hit areas as tropical storm Khanun swept over the peninsula on Thursday, having pounded southern Japan over the past week.

Downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm, Khanun made landfall on the southeast coast, and was heading towards the South Korean capital Seoul.

Khanun could also strike North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, early on Friday and state media there reported that the military and the ruling party had been ordered to prepare flood-mitigation measures and salvage crops.

In South Korea, some 350 flights and 450 train routes were cancelled, and more than 14,000 people were moved to safety, the interior ministry said.

One person was missing in the southeastern city of Daegu after falling into the river in a wheelchair, the ministry said, adding it was looking into the death of another person in the same city.

The storm brought up to 60 mm (2.4 inches) of rain per hour in some east coast towns, and maximum wind speeds of 126 kilometres per hour (78 miles per hour) in the southeastern port city of Busan, the weather agency said.

Khanun was passing South Korea’s eastern coastal province of Gangwon as of 20:30 p.m. (1130 GMT), losing a little speed as it moved northwards at 23 kph (14.3 mph) toward the greater Seoul area.

“I’m worried that people living in lowlands or making a living by farming and fishing would suffer,” said Kim Wi-jeong, a 33-year-old office worker living in the capital.

Most schools were shut for the summer vacation, but nearly half of those having resumed classes early, about 1,600, either closed or switched to remote learning because of the storm, the education ministry said. Some schools were hit by floods and landslides.

The storm further complicated the trip of 37,000 youngsters attending the ill-starred World Scout Jamboree. Having endured a heatwave last week, they were moved to safer accommodation on Tuesday as their campsite lay in the path of the storm.

The country is still recovering from intense monsoon rain last month, which left more than 40 people dead, including 14 in a flooded tunnel.

Lee Hyun-ho, a professor of atmospheric science at Kongju National University, said Khanun was the first storm to pass directly over the Korean peninsula. He said increasing sea surface temperatures had made it more powerful.

“The more the temperatures rise, the greater the energy that storms can get. So we will likely see even stronger typhoons in the future,” Lee said.

Fed by humid air from the storm, heavy rain was still battering parts of western Japan, with some areas getting well over the normal for August in the past week. One town had recorded 985 mm (38.78 inches) as of Thursday morning.

Another storm, Typhoon Lan, was approaching near the Ogasawara Islands, about 1,000 km (621 miles) south of Tokyo, late on Wednesday.

Though the storm’s path was uncertain, the Japan Meteorological Agency said it could affect the Tokyo area by the end of the weekend.

The bad weather is striking in the middle of Obon, Japan’s main summer holiday, when many people leave big cities to return to their home towns.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo and Hyunsu Yim, Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park in Seoul; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Ed Davies, Simon Cameron-Moore and Sharon Singleton)