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North Korea covers up apartment collapse with 70 casualties after two typhoons hammer Wonsan

Typhoon Maysak (TheAustinMan/WikiCommons)
September 13, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in North Korea are covering up an apartment building collapse that buried 70 residents in the coastal city of Wonsan, caused by heavy wind and rain as two typhoons tore through the city four days apart over the past week, sources in the country told RFA.

North Korea had already been inundated after the longest ever period of continuous rain on the Korean peninsula in July and August, followed by flooding from Typhoon Bavi on Aug. 27. State media said Tuesday that in South Hamgyong Province 2,000 homes and public buildings were flooded or destroyed.

Typhoons Maysak and Haishen, known locally as typhoons number 9 and 10, both of which came up the eastern coast of the peninsula from South Korea. Maysak made landfall on Sep. 3, followed by Haishen on Sep 7 – both slamming Wonsan, a coastal city of 360,000 people in North Korea’s southeastern Kangwon province.

An official of the province told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday the government was trying to hide the apartment collapse in Wonsan, which was caused by Maysak, because it wanted to get out of paying compensation to survivors.

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“On the 3rd, an apartment building in Wonsan collapsed due to typhoon number 9. Around 70 apartment residents were buried under the rubble,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“The casualties caused by the collapse of the building were reported to the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] through the provincial party committee, but the Central Committee only ordered that the provincial and municipal authorities take care of the families of those who died, with no other support for survivors,” said the source.

The collapse was inevitable due to the building’s age and the government’s weak enforcement of safety standards, laid bare when strong winds and heavy rains cracked walls and twisted window frames, the source said.

“The authorities did not report to the public that the apartment building was destroyed by typhoon number 9. They only reported that some roads and farmland were flooded,” said the source, who declined to give a specific address for the collapsed building for security reasons.

“They are hiding the fact that more than 70 were killed or seriously injured is so they can cover up the incident to avoid having to pay compensation to the bereaved families,” the source said.

Double damage

A resident of Kangwon, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA that the two typhoons caused widespread damage in Wonsan, a city with seaside resorts as well as chemical and railway car manufacturing.

“About 40 single-story homes in Wonsan collapsed on the 7th due to heavy rain and strong winds from typhoon number 10. There were no casualties but residents who lost their homes are about to live on the street,” the second source said.

“Wonsan was hit by typhoon 10 right after number 9. Farmlands as well as houses were flooded, so there are so many victims,” said the source.

“But the Central Committee has not come up with any measures or alternative plans for the homeless and has only ordered the provincial party and its officials to ‘set up substantial measures to recover from the typhoon damage,’” the Kangwon source added.

Komdok first

The second source said that even though the city suffered severe typhoon damage the government is prioritizing recovery other areas of the country it deems more important.

“Wonsan suffered casualties and property damage just as much as the Komdok area in South Hamgyong province, but the authorities are focusing on Komdok’s restoration because it is more economically vital,” the second source said, referring to the site of one of the world’s largest lead and zinc mines.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described Komdok recovery efforts as “a pressing task that should be prioritized for reviving the vital economic lifeline of the country,” during a meeting of the Korean Worker’s Party Tuesday, according to the state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

KCNA reported that Komdok had suffered “severe damage” with 2,000 homes and public buildings either flooded or destroyed, a transportation system crippled by roads that had “washed away, in 45 places,” and damage or destruction to 59 bridges. Additionally, several sections of railroads were damaged near the mines.

The report said Kim ordered that homes, roads and rails be restored by Oct. 10, the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean Workers’ Party, and “100 percent” restoration of Komdok by year’s end.

The Kangwon resident said the province is also expecting help from the national government.

“There are a lot of flooded houses and farmland in Kangwon province, so it is still hard to estimate the damage. Due to the limited capacity of the province to recover on its own, the provincial officials and residents expect support from the Central Committee, but no clear support measures have been started yet,” the source said.