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(4th LD) Typhoon slams S. Korea hard, causes casualties, damage

All Headlines 23:42 August 28, 2012

(ATTN: CORRECTS death toll, UPDATES with more details on damage in para 2)

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- The unusually powerful Typhoon Bolaven pounded South Korea with strong winds and heavy downpours on Tuesday, killing at least 10 South Koreans, causing enormous property damage to farmers and fishermen, and triggering massive power failures and flight cancellations, officials said.

Torrential downpours and gale-force winds toppled over trees, signboards, street lights and power lines, causing traffic chaos and temporarily cutting power to nearly 1.76 million households nationwide, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said. It said winds that were the fifth strongest caused by a typhoon to hit the country caused 222 people to evacuate their homes and seek emergency shelter.

NEMA said that most of the damage was caused by strong winds, although up to 700 millimeters of rain fell in some areas with storm waves destroying several fishing boats and a breakwater.

Police said that the most powerful storm in a decade knocked down a church bell tower in Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul, and crushed an 89-year-old woman to death around noon. More deaths occurred in other regions as an elderly woman lost her balance and fell from her rooftop and two others were crushed to death by a tree and a container that were blown by gusts of strong wind. Five others were killed due to collapsed walls and other storm-related accidents.

In the most fatal accident, two Chinese fishing boats with 33 crew members aboard were crippled in waters off Jeju Island's southern port of Seogwipo on Tuesday, according to the Coast Guard. It rescued 18 crew members but five died and 10 remain missing.

NEMA said most of the severe damage were centered in South Jeolla Province and Jeju Island, with many apartment buildings reporting damage from strong winds and inundation. It said 11 roads across the country were closed, with 171 coastal passenger ships told to stay in harbor.

President Lee Myung-bak held an emergency video conference earlier in the day with officials from the state weather agency and local governments overseeing regions in the typhoon's course and instructed local governments to keep their guard high against Bolaven and take every possible step to minimize damage.

Authorities said a train bound for Suncheon, 415 kilometers south of Seoul, was also forced to stop midway and remained stationary for 44 minutes after an 8-meter-wide panel was blown off from a nearby rooftop and got caught under the train.

Bolaven, in addition, flooded more than 2,000 hectares of farmland in such areas as Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces, with close to 360 greenhouses destroyed. Extensive damage was reported by the country's fish farmers and fruit growers.

Local administrators from rural areas said the total damage caused by the typhoon is impossible to determine at present, adding that people were banned from going up mountains because of landslide risks.

Seoul, home to about 10 million people, also sustained extensive property damage and witnessed accidents, as the storm passed northward about 120 km west of the port of Incheon Tuesday afternoon, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).

The typhoon maintained a central pressure of 970 hectopascals into the night with maximum wind speeds hitting 36 meters per second and the radius of the storm reaching 280 kilometers, the KMA said. Top winds speeds had reached 51.8 meters per second earlier in the day.

The KMA added that the typhoon remained relatively strong despite landing on North Korea's South Hwanghae Province around 4 p.m. The storm passed near the capital city of Pyongyang around 9 p.m. and all areas of North Korea were still being affected by the typhoon late Tuesday. It is expected to leave the Korean Peninsula early Wednesday when it should become tropical depression.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency reported loss of electricity and damage to buildings and roads, with winds reaching up to 30 meters per second in Pyongyang.

Because of the strength of the typhoon, all elementary and secondary schools in Seoul were closed, while almost all other municipal and provincial governments across the country also enforced temporary school closures.

All domestic flights from Jeju International Airport and Seoul's Gimpo Airport were canceled for most of the day, and Incheon International Airport, the gateway to Seoul, also suspended flights from Monday afternoon, although airport authorities said some domestic flights services resumed later Tuesday.

Airport officials said that because of strong winds it may take until Wednesday for all domestic and international flights to return to normal.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)

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