Pyeongtaek residents return to homes
March 12, 2009
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Residents are back in all but one of the houses that were damaged by a U.S. Army helicopter last month, South Korean authorities said Tuesday.
Rotor wash from a CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter ripped at about 10 dwellings Feb. 25 in Songhwa-ri, a village of about 300 people just outside Camp Humphreys.
The air current thrashed roofs, fences, walls, doors, windows and other objects. Many residents are aging rice farmers.
The tandem-rotor Chinook was leaving Humphreys with a piece of excavation equipment slung underneath around 12:15 p.m. According to residents, it appeared to tilt to one side as if struggling with its cargo.
The aircraft was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade at Humphreys.
An Army investigation might not be completed for 30 to 90 days or more, division spokesman Maj. Vincent Mitchell said Tuesday.
Nine homes have received temporary repairs, but one whose roof was shorn remains unlivable, according to Kang Sang-won, director of the Pyeongtaek Peace Center, a civic group.
Some repair work is still under way, said Yu Jin-hwa, who heads Pyeongtaek city’s international affairs department.
"It is very deplorable to see the victims struggle so hard in working through this situation, and fearful that such an incident may happen to them again," Kang said.
He said he hoped the U.S. military would "propose some preventive measures."
Also shortly after the incident, the Army paid eight of the residents a one-time "solatium" payment of 500,000 won (about $331), Mitchell said. Amounts are based on formulas in the U.S.-South Korea Status of Forces Agreement, he said.
"Based on their losses and the damage done, the appropriate payments were made," Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, local officials are helping the residents file compensation claims with the South Korean government in Suwon, Yu said.
It should take two to three months before a national compensation board rules on how much compensation, if any, should be awarded claimants.
If any compensation award fell short of the amount claimed, Yu said, Pyeongtaek officials would seek other funding sources to make up the shortfall. City officials are acting as an intermediary between the residents and the U.S. military, he said.
Mitchell said the Army has assigned a liaison to help people process claims paperwork.
"We’re putting an emphasis on ensuring that these homeowners are taken care of as quickly as possible," he said.
The residents whose home is roofless, Kim Si-nam and his wife, first moved into a local hotel but now rent a small room from a local villager.
Kim said he paid rent with money from the initial solatium payment, then from a second sum of 750,000 won (about $496) he was given.
"The room is very tiny but it is not that bad to live in," he said. "What will happen in the near future is the really big question."