Gyeongju quakes cost 23 billion won in damages

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Gyeongju quakes cost 23 billion won in damages

The provincial government of North Gyeongsang on Friday announced that property damage from strong earthquakes and hundreds of aftershocks in Gyeongju amounts to 23 billion won ($20.8 million), to which many local governments and organizations are responding with funds and volunteers.

The city was hit with a 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 12 - the largest in Korea since 1978 - and some 400 more aftershocks since, including a 3.5-magnitude tremor on Wednesday and a 4.5-magnitude quake on Monday, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).

As of Friday in Gyeongju, 5,960 reports of damage have come in, including some 4,900 shattered rooftops and cracked walls and 32 human injuries, according to the provincial government of North Gyeongsang.

The central government on Thursday designated Gyeongju a “special disaster zone” to qualify it for any necessary financial and public assistance. A special disaster zone is declared if a disaster is too serious to be handled by local government authorities. This was the first time in Korea that an area was declared a disaster zone because of earthquakes.

The designation requires a certain amount of damage, which varies by local districts and areas. In the case of Gyeongju, the minimum required cost of damage was set at 7.5 billion won.

Local governments and organizations are also responding by sending repair funds and workers to Gyeongju.

The North Gyeongsang branch of the Korea Specialty Contractors Association on Tuesday donated 7,000 giwa, or ceramic roof tiles, to Gyeongju city government. As of Friday, Gyeongju received some 77,000 giwa.

Individual contributions have been flowing in, too. Chungho Nais President Joung Hwi-dong donated 200 million won out of his own pocket on Thursday. Actor Park Hae-jin also donated 50 million won on Friday.

And since Tuesday, some 30 giwa experts have been repairing giwa rooftops in Gyeongju. Some 10 giwa experts from South Jeolla and 40 construction workers in the North Gyeongsang region have also volunteered.

Meanwhile, Seoul Metropolitan Government on Friday also announced a reparation fund of 300 million won for Gyeongju and affected regions.

“The funds will be sent to the Korean Red Cross North Gyeongsang branch to be used for giwa rooftop repair work and other reconstruction work,” the city government said in its press release.

The Seoul city government will also be investing 548 billion won in the next four years to provide buildings in Seoul with earthquake resistant structures, and to ensure that the subway system is 100 percent quake-resistant by 2020.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, no aftershocks have hit Gyeongju and neighboring regions for 35 hours. The last aftershock recorded by the KMA was a 1.8-magnitude tremor that hit around 5 a.m. on Thursday.

This is the first time since Sept. 12 that an aftershock has not occurred for more than 24 hours.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Security and the Korean Red Cross have begun providing Gyeongju residents with psychological counseling and treatment as of Sept. 17.

“I am healthy! I’m OK!” shouted a group of residents gathered at a community center in Oedong-eup of Gyeongju, following directions from Kim Sung-sam, psychology professor at Daegu Haany University.

“I slept at a local community center in the past two days because the cracks in the wall in my house got wider,” said Park Gap-sik, a 75-year-old resident of Oedong-eup of Gyeongju. His hands shook as he spoke.

“The treatment helped me forget my fears,” he added.

“Even slight winds would send shivers down my back,” said Song Soon-ja, a 70-year-old resident of the city. “But after singing and laughing out loud at the center today, I feel much better now.”

“We were relieved to find that none of the residents at Oedong-eup showed serious signs of psychological stress like social phobia,” Kim said. “After a week of treatment, the residents seem to be doing much better.”

The psychological treatments in Gyeongju will last through Oct. 2.

BY CHOI EUN-KYUNG, KIM YOUN-HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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