South Korea Floods: Tunnel Horror and Climate Fears

Uncover the harrowing reality of South Korea's floods and their chilling connection to climate change.

Jul 17, 2023 - 21:32
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South Korea Floods: Tunnel Horror and Climate Fears
Aerial view of flooded streets in South Korea caused by heavy rainfall

As the muddied waters of a South Korean underpass are meticulously combed by hundreds of rescue workers, the stagnant rainwater, previously reaching the ceiling, now barely grazes their knees.

Defiance is their creed, for there remains one soul unaccounted for.

Over 48 arduous hours have elapsed since torrential rainfall ruptured a riverbank, unleashing a torrent of water that ruthlessly inundated the sprawling underpass, abruptly halting any vehicular motion.

Thirteen lifeless bodies have been recovered thus far from the subterranean tunnel, nestled within the heart of Chongju's central mountainous region. Gripping CCTV footage reveals the petrified countenance of a missing driver, desperately striving to extricate themselves from their submerged vehicle, yet their corporeal presence remains elusive.

Even as their search persists, another vehicle is gingerly hoisted out, its rear window shattered by the sheer force of the deluge.

This macabre spectacle, reminiscent of a scene from a horror opus, serves as an alarming clarion call to South Korea. Climate change, an erstwhile affliction sparing this nation from the extremities endured by its sweltering counterparts, is beginning to exact its toll.

Remarkably, the monsoon season, scarcely midway through its tenure, has already surpassed the customary quota of rainfall for the designated period.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, resolute in his determination, proclaims a comprehensive reformation of the nation's response to climatic extremities, recognizing the inevitability of these harrowing occurrences becoming commonplace.

"It is incumbent upon us to acknowledge the irrefutable reality of climate change and confront it head-on," asserts Mr. Yoon.

In Edam, a minuscule agrarian hamlet situated a mere hour's journey away, Song Du-ho, a sprightly octogenarian, perches on his doorstep, eyelids sealed shut as he endeavors to assimilate the wreckage that envelops him.

Within the confines of his modest, single-story abode, the flooring has been grievously sundered, and his waterlogged possessions form towering stacks that graze the ceiling.

His garden, once a sanctuary, now doubles as a dumping ground for remnants of shattered bookshelves and defunct electrical apparatus. Two soldiers diligently disassemble the debris, facilitating disposal through the medium of a wheelbarrow.

Mr. Song springs to his feet, beseeching, "Hold on! Reserve the metal; I shall vend it. Discard the remainder!" His admonition resonates through the air.

The domiciliary sanctuary of this humble farmer, toiling to harvest rice and beans, was engulfed by the relentless downpour that precipitated the overflow of the dam, typically safeguarding his rustic village nestled within the North Chungcheong province.

As the night cloaked the land, rescue personnel, summoned by the urgency of the situation, extricated him and his wife, the latter burdened with a debilitating spinal ailment, from the watery abyss that threatened their existence.

Confiding, "To deny my apprehension when the deluge encroached would be an untruth. The specter of death loomed ominously," Mr. Song, his thoughts still in disarray, grapples with his newfound reality. For four decades, he has called Edam his home, acclimatized to South Korea's monsoon season, spanning the twilight of June to the genesis of August. Yet, never before has he borne witness to such an onslaught of precipitation, triggering rivers to surge and hillsides to cascade, burying homesteads, and extinguishing lives.

A daunting prospect confronts Mr. Song as he contemplates the gargantuan endeavor that lies ahead, cognizant that his limited capabilities might prove inadequate in restoring his cherished dwelling. "In the throes of despair, I, nearing my ninth decade, find myself grappling with the query: what course of action lies before me? For individuals of advanced years, we shall meet our earthly demise amidst the surroundings we call home," he laments.

Adjacent to his abode, Han Chang Rae, a septuagenarian, squats amidst her courtyard, besmirched by layers of mud, gingerly discarding the contents of her now defunct refrigerator into sturdy bin bags. Even the abundant mounds of kimchi and other pickled delicacies, symbols of her culinary prowess, succumb to the ruthless onslaught of this scorching, humid day.

A checkered visor provides respite from rivulets of perspiration coursing down her visage as she traverses her realm with mechanical efficiency, scarcely raising her gaze. "A mountain of tasks engulfs me," she mutters, anguish lacing her voice.

In stark contrast to Mr. Song, Ms. Han, a recent arrival to Edam, now finds herself parting ways with possessions that never had the opportunity to transcend the confines of their boxes.

Bewildered, she confesses, "I have traversed 74 years of existence, yet never before have I borne witness to such calamity. Alas, the spectrum of emotions eludes me; fortune alone spared me from the clutches of death."

For South Koreans, unaccustomed to grappling with the repercussions of our warming planet, peril continues to loom large, exacerbated by the impending arrival of more deluges forecasted for Tuesday.

Within the farming enclave of Edam, the monsoon season has metamorphosed from a routine facet of summertime into an object of trepidation and fear.

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