When Seoul floods, underground class feels it hardest

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When Seoul floods, underground class feels it hardest

Emergency personnel on Wednesday continue to search for people who went missing in Monday's flash floods around Gangnam Station in southern Seoul. [YONHAP]

Emergency personnel on Wednesday continue to search for people who went missing in Monday's flash floods around Gangnam Station in southern Seoul. [YONHAP]

 
Authorities continue to search for missing people after Monday's unprecedented flash floods exposed the acute vulnerability of low-income Seoul residents who live in banjiha, or semi-basement apartments.
 
Such units are only partly above ground, with windows peeking out directly onto the pavement of streets — some of which became rivers in Monday's downpours.
 
Rain overwhelmed drainage systems in several areas, but neighborhoods south of the Han River in Seoul such as Gangnam, Seocho, Dongjak and Gwanak districts were particularly badly affected. Local topography and low elevations prevented water from discharging quickly.
 
In Sillim-dong, Gwanak District, three people out of a family of four were killed when water from the neighboring Dorimcheon, a minor stream that flooded Monday, prevented an escape from their banjiha unit, where they drowned.
 
The sole survivor — a 72-year-old woman named Lee — was only spared the fate that befell her two daughters in their 40s and her 13-year-old granddaughter because she had been admitted to a hospital for treatment on Monday.
 
Speaking to the JoongAng Ilbo, Lee said her 47-year-old younger daughter was the sole breadwinner of the family and took care of both her own daughter and an elder sister with Down Syndrome.
 
Lee said the family of four women moved into the semi-basement apartment seven years ago after years of saving up money.
 
“We used to wash plastic bags for re-use. That’s how we saved money to buy that house,” Lee said.  
 
Lee said her younger daughter had taken time off from work on Monday to bring her to the hospital.
 
“If she had been at work instead of bringing me to the hospital, she might have lived,” Lee cried.
 
Lee said her younger daughter called her crying at 8:37 p.m. to tell her that she could not open the front door of their apartment because of the inflowing water.
 
The younger daughter also contacted a close friend, who asked only to be identified by her surname Kim, to tell her that emergency services were not responding to her calls between 8:43 and 8:53 p.m.
 
Emergency services in Korea can usually be contacted by dialing 119, but around the time Lee’s younger daughter called them, call centers were deluged with approximately 500 phone calls at once.
 
As she shared photos of the semi-basement apartment that her younger daughter had refurbished only a month before the tragedy, Lee wailed and sobbed.
 
“This cannot be true," she cried. "All of it must be a lie.” 
 
The tragedy highlights the vulnerability of urban residents who live in similar housing, which featured prominently in the internationally-acclaimed Korean film “Parasite.”
 
In one scene of the movie, a struggling family of four are forced to escape their semi-basement apartment after it floods due to heavy rainfall.
 
The banjiha unit, or semi-basement apartment in Sillim-dong, Gwanak District, where three people out of a family of four were killed when water from the neighboring Dorimcheon, a minor stream that flooded Monday, prevented an escape from their unit. The photo was taken on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

The banjiha unit, or semi-basement apartment in Sillim-dong, Gwanak District, where three people out of a family of four were killed when water from the neighboring Dorimcheon, a minor stream that flooded Monday, prevented an escape from their unit. The photo was taken on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

The human toll of Monday’s flash flood also rose to 10 on Wednesday after authorities discovered the body of a man in his 40s who went missing after falling down a manhole in Seocho District, southern Seoul.
 
In multiple areas of the city where drainage systems were overwhelmed, the lids of manholes were blown off by pressure from accumulated water, posing a danger to pedestrians who waded their way through flooded streets.
 
The Seoul metropolitan government announced Wednesday morning that the number of buildings flooded on Monday reached 3,430.
 
The city government also reported that 138 vehicles were damaged by floods, but the General Insurance Association of Korea said the country’s five largest insurers had received 5,657 reports of flood-related vehicle damage related to flood-damaged vehicles as of Wednesday morning. 
 
Landslides also resulted in at least two deaths outside Seoul.
 
 

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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