North Koreans living along the Tumen River border with China described a hellish ordeal as the river rose swiftly, leaving many people scrambling for safety in a flood that has claimed at least 200 lives and devastated a wide swath of country’s poorest region.
“The floods came through with such force that the Tumen River, which borders China, swelled rapidly,” Dong Nam Kim, a North Korean defector and representative of the Free North Korea Global Network, told RFA’s Korean Service as he relayed descriptions of the disaster from inside the country.
The floods ripped through the area as Typhoon Lionrock lashed Northeast Asia from August 29 to September 2. The floods may have hit the provinces in the north harder after North Korean authorities opened up the floodgates in the hydroelectric facilities upstream. It’s unclear why the North Korean government decided to open up the floodgates, but the North Korean defector said that with the rain falling at nearly four inches per hour caused the authorities to fear that the dams would burst, causing even more damage.
At least 140,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, the OCHA said in a statement. It estimated 100,000 people have been displaced and water supplies to about 600,000 people have been cut.
Of the more than 35,500 houses that were damaged, nearly two-thirds were destroyed. A further 8,700 buildings, including schools and public buildings, were damaged, and 16,000 hectares (39,540 acres) of arable land inundated, the OCHA said.
The government of North Korea, which called the deadly natural disaster the “the strongest storm and heaviest downpour” the country has experienced in decades, issued an unusual appeal for international help.
North Korea’s appeal for help could not have come at a worse time, coming after the country conducted its second nuclear test in eight months on September 9, that was widely condemned and is expected to draw more economic sanctions from the international community.
[Radio Free Asia]