North Korea Reports 'Heavy Losses' in Floods

News and Press Release
Originally published
By PAUL SHIN Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Torrential rains have inundated rice paddies and caused "heavy losses" of lives in North Korea, which is already facing a serious food shortage following last year's floods.

"Crops will not be harvested as planned," the official Korean Central News Agency said Monday.

The agency, breaking its practice of not reporting weather-related accidents or damage, said "the unexpectedly heavy rains seriously damaged vast areas of the country."

It said the floods caused "heavy losses" of human lives and property but gave no figures.

The agency said a storm that buffeted both sides of the Korean peninsula last week dumped nearly 29 inches of rain in some areas of North Korea, and inundated rice paddies, dams, roads, railways, plants and houses.

Hit hardest were the country's western regions that include its major rice belts, the agency said. Those areas were ravaged by last year's floods.

Traffic between Pyongyang, the capital, and other major cities in the west, including the border city of Kaesung, was suspended because sections of railways and highways were destroyed, it said.

The downpours also ruptured reservoirs and inundated major plants, including the Hwanghae iron complex south of its capital Pyongyang, the agency said.

South Korean officials say that the floods could further aggravate North Korea's food situation. The reclusive Communist country has appealed for the first time for outside food aid.

North Korea has reportedly suffered chronic food shortages for years due to cold weather and mismanagement. Flooding last summer swept away entire villages.

U.N. and other international charity groups warn that a famine may develop in North Korea unless emergency aid is given. But outside aid has been slow to come.

The United Nation's World Food Program said Monday it is still $10 million short of the $25.9 million it needs.

The agency said it expanded its relief program in North Korea to feed 1.5 million people, three times the number it had been helping.

In some parts of the country people have been forced to eat grass and roots to survive.

In South Korea, 64 people were killed in the storms and 24 others are missing.

Hit hardest was an area north of Seoul near the North Korean border where as many as 50,000 people in a dozen cities and towns were forced to flee rising waters.

Two days after the rain stopped, some parts of the area remained inundated. Those killed included 44 soldiers who died when their barracks, built on steep hills, were buried in landslides.

South Korean media estimated that property damage would reach $600 million.