U.S. bases hit hard as flooding, landslides wreak havoc in S. Korea
July 27, 2011
UPDATED: July 28 8:11 p.m. EDT
SEOUL — Two U.S. military bases in South Korea were essentially shut down Thursday because of massive downpours that have been blamed for at least 57 deaths across the peninsula.
At camps Casey and Hovey — adjacent bases in the northern South Korean city of Dongducheon — only essential personnel reported to work because of flooding and landslides in and around the installations.
Nonessential personnel were urged to stay in their homes and contact their supervisors for further instructions, military officials said. Road conditions in the area were downgraded to red, meaning only military vehicles on emergency or essential business could be driven.
“Camp Casey has sustained significant damage, and we do have work crews out working to clear the roads and make them passable, and assure the safety of everyone on the installation,” U.S. Army Garrison–Red Cloud spokesman Kevin Jackson said.
Jackson said about 22 inches of rain fell in the Casey/Hovey area over a 36-hour period, causing four landslides. The worst left about 200 yards of debris, 20 feet deep, on a road that links the two bases.
Another landslide, he said, left about a foot of mud on the floor of the gym at Casey’s Hanson Field House.
“I wouldn’t think Casey will be back to normal by tomorrow,” Jackson said Thursday.
There was also significant flooding at nearby Camp Mobile, he said.
At Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, rain and flooding closed 8th Army headquarters for a short time Wednesday, and nonessential personnel were told to report to work two hours later than usual on Thursday.
“There was some minor tree damage, but I haven’t heard of any other significant damage,” said USAG-Yongsan spokesman Jane Lee. “When it rains, we can usually handle the water. But if it’s an intense downpour, we flood.”
Lee said Thursday morning that 15 inches of rain fell in the Yongsan area over a 24-hour period, but only another 5 inches was expected over the next 24.
“I think we’ve experienced the worst of it,” she said.
Heavy rains that have fallen for the past two days have wreaked havoc all over South Korea.
The Associated Press reported that walls of mud barreling down a hill buried 10 college students sleeping in a resort cabin and flash floods submerged some streets and subway stations in Seoul.
The students were engulfed by a landslide in Chuncheon, about 68 miles northeast of Seoul, said fire marshal Byun In-soo. Witnesses interviewed on television said the landslide sounded like a massive explosion or a freight train. They described people screaming as buildings were carried away by rivers of mud.
Hundreds of firefighters, soldiers, police and others rushed to rescue those trapped and extract the dead from the mud and wreckage in Chuncheon, where 24 others were injured and several buildings destroyed, according to AP.
In southern Seoul, 16 people died when mud crashed through homes at the foot of a mountain. The National Emergency Management Agency reported seven deaths due to flooding in a stream just south of the capital and said the toll was expected to rise as dozens of people were missing.
Fast-moving mudwaters filled the streets in Seoul on Wednesday, sending residents scrambling to the roofs of their partially submerged cars. Water filled some subway stations and spewed from sewers.
Seoul shut down portions of two major highways stretching along each side of the main Han River because of high water, the AP reported.
The heavy rain left about 620 people homeless and flooded 720 houses and about 100 vehicles throughout South Korea, the emergency management agency said.
AP reported that rain totals over the past two days were 15 times more than the average rainfall at this time of year, according to the state-run Korea Meteorological Administration. Yonhap News Agency quoted an administration official as saying the volume of rain was something the country will see maybe once or twice a century.