Civic group says Busan government responsible for flooding deaths

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Civic group says Busan government responsible for flooding deaths

Fire fighters rescue trapped passengers after the flooding of an underpass in Busan’s Dong District Thursday due to torrential rainfall which killed three people. [BUSAN METROPOLITAN POLICE AGENCY]

Fire fighters rescue trapped passengers after the flooding of an underpass in Busan’s Dong District Thursday due to torrential rainfall which killed three people. [BUSAN METROPOLITAN POLICE AGENCY]

A civic group Sunday called on the local government to take responsibility for the death of three people last week after an underpass was flooded in the southern port city of Busan during heavy rainfall, calling it a man-made disaster.
 
Last Thursday, three people were killed after the underpass flooded in Busan’s Dong District after a heavy rainfall warning. The flooding of the underpass at around 10:18 p.m. trapped nine people in six vehicles.
 
Two victims, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s were retrieved and transported to a hospital but died hours later during treatment. A third victim, a man in his 50s, was found dead early Friday around 3 a.m. as the underpass was drained. The other six victims were rescued.
 
The 174-meter (571-foot) underpass is 3.5 meters high, and water level reached the 2.5 meter mark, well above head height. Some 100 rescue workers worked on draining the underpass overnight, a process which was completed around 7 a.m. on Friday morning.
 
A local civic organization, the Busan Gyeongnam Future Policy, on Sunday blamed the local government for the three deaths and called for measures to prevent such an accident in the future. It especially criticized the city government for not restricting access to underpasses despite the heavy rainfall warning.
 
The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) issued a heavy rainfall warning at 8 p.m. Thursday evening, but there was no restriction on traffic entering underpasses issued for over two hours until after the accident happened. A heavy rainfall advisory had been issued by the KMA earlier that afternoon since 2 p.m. While there was an electronic display installed in front of the underpass, there was no warning of possible flooding. The Busan city government sent a text message warning drivers against entering underpasses at 10:53 p.m., only after the Dong District accident.
 
Under guidelines by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety in place since February 2019, as soon as a heavy rainfall warning was issued, measures should have been taken to manage the situation and restrict access to underpasses.  
 
Busan saw heavy rainfall of over 80 millimeters (3.1 inches) per hour, which resulted in flash floods in streets and buildings throughout the city, leading to the immobilization of some subways and train lines. Flooding led to the displacement of 68 people, mostly in Dong District, according to Busan authorities, and at least 209 reports of damages due to the rain. The area saw a total of 200 millimeters of rainfall Thursday.
 
The Busan civic group said Sunday that that the latest incident is reminiscent of an accident on Aug. 25, 2014, when 140 millimeters of rain fell in Busan killing two people, a girl in her teens and her grandmother, in a flooded underpass in Dongnmae District.
 
It added that there needs to be fundamental improvement to the city’s drainage system and pointed out that three pumps with the capacity to drain some 20 tons of water did not appear to have served their purpose.
 
The KMA has forecasted torrential rainfall again this week, and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety convened an emergency meeting Sunday to prepare for possible evacuations in case of flooding or landslides and to expedite recovery efforts.  
 
BY SARAH KIM, HWANG SUN-YOON   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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