One dead, five missing in river swollen by rains
One man was found dead and five others remain missing after three boats capsized above a dam in Chuncheon, Gangwon, where heavy rains throughout the week prompted authorities to open the floodgates.
The Gapyeong Police Department said they found the body of the 69-year-old repair worker among docks downstream from the Euiam Dam in Nami Island in Gyeonggi.
The man had apparently drowned after his boat and another vessel were overturned by rapid water flows on the Bukhan River.
The two boats were attempting to salvage a police boat that had capsized while working to repair a facility around 500 meters (0.3 miles) upstream from the dam.
The police boat, carrying two people, had apparently been tipped over by wires installed to keep large objects from flowing down towards the dam, according to the Gangwon Provincial Police Agency.
Police said a total of eight people — police officers, ordinary citizens and Chuncheon city officials — were on the three boats when the accidents happened, and one person was rescued on the spot.
The seven others were swept through the floodgates of the dam down the river. One of the victims was rescued alive near a bridge around 10 kilometers (6 miles) downstream from the dam.
With concerns of flooding due to heavy rains throughout this week, the Euiam Dam opened its floodgates Sunday evening and has been releasing around a ton of water every second since.
The accident may be one of the deadliest caused by torrential rains that poured across the central part of the Korean Peninsula throughout this week.
Gangwon and northern Gyeonggi, where the accidents occurred, were hit by record downpours early Thursday morning, with Cheorwon County in Gangwon receiving a total of around 700 millimeters (27.6 inches) of rain since Saturday.
Four villages near the inter-Korean military demarcation line were completely inundated, leading hundreds to evacuate to safer ground. A total of approximately 1,200 residents of the province were forced from their homes, according to Gangwon authorities.
The Euiam Dam was just one of many across Gangwon and Gyeonggi that provincial governments were forced to open due to alarming levels of rainwater that had accumulated over the week.
The Soyang Dam, located not far upstream from the Euiam Dam, was opened on Wednesday for the first time in three years after water levels reached a danger mark of 190.3 meters.
Ten of the 15 floodgates of the Paldang Dam in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, were also opened Wednesday, releasing somewhere between 6,500 to 7,500 tons of water downstream every second.
The water released from all these dams raised water levels downstream on the Han River to dangerous levels and flooded large parts of the riverbank in Seoul.
For the first time in almost a decade, a flood alert was issued for a section of the Han River in the capital on Thursday.
The Han River Flood Control Office put out the warning at 11 a.m., alerting Seoul residents living near the Hangang Bridge that the water level was close to exceeding 8.5 meters — the level that would prompt a yellow level alert.
At 10.5 meters, authorities are required to raise a red level alert and at 13.3 meters, the highest alert level, though the lower sections of the Han River have never flooded to that level since records have been kept.
Data updated in real time by the office showed the water level around the Hangang Bridge peaked at 8.73 meters at around 2:20 p.m. The water level at the Jamsu Bridge, in another section of the Han River in Seoul which connects Seocho District and Yongsan District, broke an all-time record after it reached 11.53 meters.
The resultant flooding on the riverbanks caused major highways to be closed to traffic.
Sections of the Olympic Expressway and Gangbyeon Northern Highway, which run along the southern and northern banks of the Han River respectively, were blocked, as were parts of the Dongbu Urban Expressway and Seoul Inner Loop.
This prompted heavy traffic congestion across the city during the morning rush hour.
Intense downpours across Seoul, Gyeonggi, Gangwon, and North and South Chungcheong since Saturday have caused 16 fatalities, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.
Eleven people were additionally reported missing according to the officially tally Thursday morning, though these figures did not take into account the accidents that occurred in Chuncheon.
The rains, however, appeared to subside somewhat across the country by Thursday afternoon, with rain alerts shut down in all places save for Jeju Island.
But more rains were due nationwide on Friday, warned the Korea Meteorological Administration, which said Seoul and northern Gyeonggi would be buffeted by around 5 to 40 millimeters.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]