Cold, harsh weather persists in plaguing nation

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Cold, harsh weather persists in plaguing nation


Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, fifth from left, visits Korea Power Exchange yesterday after it was reported that the amount of average electricity usage set a record between noon and 1 p.m. that day. [YONHAP]

Problems tied to the cold weather continue to plague the country, with water mains bursting, drivers discovering that their cars won’t start and one person even reportedly dying of exposure to the frigid temperatures.

An intense cold spell featuring record lows has gripped the Korean Peninsula since last weekend, when the mercury dipped below zero. And it won’t get better any time soon, as temperatures are not expected to rise significantly in the near future.

Residents in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, suffered water shortages Sunday and Monday after a water main burst at a reservoir. An estimated 170,000 homes were without water, but authorities said all service was to be restored by last night.

In Busan, where temperatures over the weekend were the coldest in 96 years, a water main burst near an elevated highway in Munhyeon-dong, sending water gushing onto the roadway and freezing three of seven lanes. Traffic was blocked for three hours, according to Busan police.

A 53-year-old homeless man who was sleeping at Haeundae Beach was found dead by a tourist yesterday, according to Busan police. Authorities believe the man froze to death.

“Death due to a cold spell is very rare at Heaundae Beach, where the weather has always been mild [in winter],” said Nam Dong-sik, a Busan police officer.

Seawater at ports in Busan was partially frozen, surprising local fishermen.

“I have never seen frozen seawater in Busan in my entire life,” said Chu Dong-ho, a 55-year-old fisherman.

Drivers yesterday morning were reporting that they couldn’t start their cars, swamping emergency service companies with calls for help.

Hyundai Marine & Insurance Co. alone said it had more than 81,000 calls for help, 10 times more than usual. “We doubled the number of counselors to respond to the rising requests from drivers,” said a company officer.

Insurance companies said the cold spell will have a negative impact on their profits, as more people want to move about outside by car, leading to increased traffic, and more accidents. The companies say they expect to pay more compensation as a result.

According to the Korea Power Exchange, the average electricity usage nationwide peaked at a record level between noon and 1 p.m. yesterday, recording 73,137,000 kilowatts. The record replaced the one set on Jan. 10.

“If the cold spell continues and causes electricity usage to rise, the worst scenario will be a blackout in some cities,” said an official at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

The Korea Meteorological Administration said yesterday that the unusually cold weather will continue until the end of the month. “A cold air mass from the Arctic Ocean pushed into Siberia, leading to the severe cold snap on Korean Peninsula this year,” said Kim Seung-bai, a weather agency spokesman.

By Kim Hee-jin []
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