No more tragedies like this

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No more tragedies like this

The tragic death of three out of a family of four living in a semi-basement villa in Sillim-dong, Gwanak district of Seoul, from the heavy rainfall in the capital, again underscored the vulnerability of the low-income class against natural disasters. The three had been widely awake when they found rainwater rapidly pouring into their home from the windows exposed to pavements around 8:30 p.m. when nearby stream flooded.

The two sisters in their late 40s and a 13-year-old daughter of the younger sibling attempted to find a way out but could not open the door against the flood of waters. They could not slip out the steel bar windows. They quickly called 119, but could not get through due to a high demand of emergency calls. When rescuers finally arrived at the scene upon receiving urgent calls from their acquaintances, it was been too late.

Even under natural disasters, many lives could be saved on full readiness. The semi-basement tragedy had happened in past downpours. Lives were taken when villas with basements in Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul became inundated during 2011 rainfall. Some were saved when adult men joined forces to remove the security grilles off the windows.

An elderly person in a semi-basement room in Incheon also died five years ago. Semi-basement homes were cited as most dangerous when exposed to floods in a survey by the National Assembly in March 2020.

The semi-basement space that had been popularly built under multi-family residential buildings in the 1970s for shelters came to house 265,000 households in a census survey in 2019. The unique arrangement that was susceptible to heavy rain was featured in the Academy-winning film “Parasite.” The BBC even had a program on semi-basement residential establishments for low-income class.

Seoul Metropolitan City helped with the so-called “Parasite” tour and vowed to improve basement living conditions. But the latest rainfall suggested safety precautions have been far short. The homes were exposed to flooding and rescue did not come. What has the local and central governments done all this time?

President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered housing safety investigations into basement housing for senior and disabled citizens. He apologized on behalf of the government. Lim Keon-soon, a novelist who lived in semi-basement room for 17 years, called for improvements to the window guards. This time there must be fundamental actions to ensure the safety of people living in semi-basement homes.
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