U.S. sailors, soldiers in Korea urged to assist locals in wake of deadly storm
September 17, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Spared from the brunt of the most powerful typhoon to hit South Korea in a century, U.S. sailors and soldiers are helping their less-fortunate neighbors.
The toll from Typhoon Maemi, which lashed the southeastern part of South Korea over the weekend, continues to rise. As of Monday afternoon, officials said the body count topped 115 and early estimates of damage totaled more than 1.4 trillion won, or $1.2 billion.
In a short statement released Monday by U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Leon LaPorte expressed sympathy for those affected by the typhoon and encouraged servicemembers to volunteer in local-assistance efforts.
“We grieve with our Korean friends over the loss of life and destruction caused by Typhoon Maemi,” the statement read. “On behalf of all USFK servicemembers, I want to express my deepest sympathy to those who lost family and friends because of the typhoon. I also want to express my sorrow for those who lost their homes and valued belongings.
“As good neighbors to Koreans, we will do our best in overcoming hardships together and recovering from Typhoon Maemi.”
Most U.S. installations in the south reported numerous downed trees and moderate property damage but no injuries to personnel.
“This was the strongest storm I’ve ever felt,” said Navy. Cmdr. Frank Martin, commander of Fleet Activities Chinhae. “We were fortunate because the direction of the storm; the front edge hit on the other side of the hills. The ROK navy base got the tidal surge.”
Martin said the typhoon severely damaged parts of the South Korean navy base at Chinhae, including some sections of a pier and several buildings. On the installation’s U.S. side, dozens of trees toppled, damaging several rooftops and vehicles. Portions of the Turtle Cove club, reopened Aug. 9 after renovation, also were damaged.
Between 9 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, the base was without power, Martin said, and wind gusts were reported at more than 90 mph.
By Monday, sailors and residents at the small base were well into the cleanup and were focusing on helping neighboring towns like Masan, which was pounded by the storm.
At least three teams of firefighters from the base have gone on volunteer aid missions, Martin said.
“The third team went to help out at the apartment building in Masan where 12 people were killed by flooding in the basement,” Martin said. The U.S. teams are supplying submersible pumps and other aid.
Mobile Construction Battalion 40, a detachment of Navy Seabees in Chinhae, was offering backhoes and other heavy equipment for the cleanup effort.
All operational units are functioning, and the Navy piers are functioning, officials said.
U.S. Army bases in the area reported hundreds of downed trees, moderate property damage and sporadic power outages, an Area IV spokesman said Monday.
Two temporary buildings at K-2 air base were flattened and floodwaters blew out portions of a concrete wall at Camp Walker. Chest-deep water knocked over parts of the wall surrounding a helipad, damaging several vehicles.
But officials say that compared to the devastation wrought in surrounding areas, the base communities feel lucky to have avoided more serious damage.
“We are soliciting for volunteers and are standing by to offer any assistance that we can to our neighbors,” said Kevin Jackson, Area IV spokesman.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials warned the worst was not over. Already high rivers are beginning to overflow their banks, adding to the flooding problems. Disaster officials say they also expect damage estimates and casualties to increase as power is restored to areas that have not yet been able to report either figures.
Those officials estimate that as a result of the typhoon, 9,000 people either were injured or sustained serious property damage; 850 buildings, 200 roads and four bridges were destroyed; and 88 ships were stranded and wrecked.
More than 60,000 households remain without power, the Korea Electric Power Corporation said Tuesday. Five nuclear power plants on the south and east coasts were shut down in the storm.