Kim Jong-il orders “rescue battle’ against floods

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Kim Jong-il orders “rescue battle’ against floods

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Houses and farmland are submerged in water in Sinuiju in this picture released by North Korea’s KCNA news agency on Saturday. Dwellings, public buildings, arable land and rural communities around the city were submerged after the Yalu River overflowed its banks after more than 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rainfall in the area around Lake Suphung from midnight to 9 a.m. on Saturday and heavy rains in the border areas of China, KCNA said on Saturday. [REUTERS]


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered a “rescue battle” against flooding, the latest ordeal for poverty-stricken North Koreans, dispatching its Air Force and Marine personnel to a region near the Chinese border over the weekend, according to a Pyongyang report yesterday.

At least 5,150 people in and around Sinuiju were evacuated from houses and farmland submerged due to heavy rains and floods, the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency said. Scores of helicopters and rescue boats were mobilized for rescue work, it said.

The KCNA did not mention whether there were any casualties, but some observers say there must be some, given the damage in nearby Chinese areas. According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, the flooding killed four people and forced more than 64,000 to flee on the Chinese side after the same heavy rains. AFP reported that the number of people evacuated in China surpassed 120,000.

The North Korean report said about 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain fell at the North Korea-China border near Sinuiju between Friday night and Saturday morning, causing floods in the Yalu River area. A total of 158 holes were created in levees along the river, the report said.

North Korea has recently suffered widespread flooding due to its decades-long deforestation, partly driven by a shortage of food and cash. In 2007, at least 600 people were reported dead or missing from floods.

Voice of America reported last week that the DPR-Korean American Private Exchange Society, North Korea’s dialogue channel with U.S. civic groups, requested urgent assistance from U.S. aid groups, including the Global Resource Service.

The government in the South is reacting to this disaster.

The Ministry of Unification on Friday approved a request by the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea, a group of South Korean civic groups aiding the North, to meet North Koreans for talks on ways to help out.

It is the first contact between the Koreas in a third country since May 24, when the South limited inter-Korean exchanges to punish the North for the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

Four senior officials of the council began to meet officials of the National Reconciliation Association, North Korea’s channel with South Korean civic groups, in Shenyang beginning yesterday, the ministry said.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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