South prepares for possible flash flood from North Korea

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South prepares for possible flash flood from North Korea

The South Korean military is bracing for a sudden release of water by North Korea from its border area dam, which could lead to property damage and the loss of life in border towns in the South, the National Defense Ministry said Monday.

During a regular briefing, Moon Sang-gyun, the ministry spokesman, said the water level at the North’s Hwanggang Dam, located about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of the military demarcation line, has hit its highest mark in recent days, raising the possibility that the North may decide to open the dam gate and release water into the South.

“We are maintaining close cooperation and communication with relevant offices and the military is constantly receiving information,” said the spokesman.

Officials say that it takes 30 minutes for the water from the Hwanggang Dam to reach the Gunnam Dam in the South.

To prevent flood damage in downstream areas in Yeoncheon County and Paju in Gyeonggi, South Korea built the Gunnam Dam in 2010 to handle an inflow of up to 11,300 tons of water per second.

There have been growing worries among residents in downstream of the Imjin River in recent days as there has been more rain so far this year compared to normal years, according to Moon.

Also contributing to the concern is North Korea’s action last month when it released water from the Hwanggang Dam without prior notice, which led to an increase in the inflow of the Imjin River from 97 tons of water per second at 6 p.m. on May 16 to 428 tons of water per second three hours later.

The sudden flooding resulted in property damage among fishermen who work along the Imjin River, as their fishing nets were damaged or lost in the flood.

No one was injured in the flash flood.

The North’s unannounced release of water is in violation of the joint agreement which was struck with the South seven years ago.

The two Koreas struck an agreement in October 2009 mandating that the North provide notice of water releases, one month after six South Koreans were killed in a flash flood caused by the North’s release of water from the Hwanggang Dam.

After the 2009 agreement, North Korea occasionally informed authorities in the South of their planned releases through a military line set up across the border, but the military line has been severed since the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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