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Typhoon Maemi ravages South Korea, at least 110 dead
( 2003-09-14 11:01) (Agencies)

South Korea's most powerful typhoon on record left at least 110 dead or missing, knocking down buildings, smashing ships and triggering floods that forced 25,000 from their homes.

A ship that has been converted into a hotel lies on its side after typhoon Maemi pounded the southern port city of Pusan, about 281 miles southeast of Seoul, September 13, 2003. A typhoon packing record strength winds slammed into South Korea killing at least 58 people and forcing about 25,000 to flee from their homes, authorities said. [Reuters]

Rescuers were desperately trying to reach a dozen people trapped in a karaoke bar in the southern city of Masan, where eight bodies had been found so far.

Typhoon Maemi, or "cicada" in Korean, tore into southern parts of the peninsula on Friday night, packing record winds of up to 216 kph (134 mph) and crunching everything in its path before heading out to sea on Saturday.

Thousands of soldiers and rescue workers were searching for the missing, helping repair roads and transmission towers, and distribute relief supplies, an official at the National Disaster Prevention Council told Reuters.

A council official said the toll had risen to 85 dead and 25 missing people by Sunday afternoon.

"The death toll is likely to rise further as the rescue teams still report dead bodies floating on the rivers and the oceans," Shin Sang-yong, an official at the council told Reuters.

The typhoon mauled South Korea's main port of Pusan, one of Asia's busiest, but did not affect the capital, Seoul.

"I can feel what it's like becoming a real beggar in one day and how that can happen," said Lee Ok-ja, a housewife in Pusan.

Television footage showed giant container cranes twisted into pretzel shapes, a row of shredded seaside shops, overturned cars floating down streets turned into rivers and buckled roads and bridges.

President Roh Moo-hyun was touring typhoon-hit areas on Sunday, the presidential Blue House said. The government said it would allocate 1.4 trillion won (US$1.20 billion) in disaster relief.


Electric signs showered sparks over pedestrians hunched under blown-out umbrellas on flooded streets.

The disaster office said most of the deaths were due to electrocution, landslides and drownings.

Tidal waves heaved an evacuated cruise liner onto its side on a beach in Pusan, South Korea's second-largest city.

"The typhoon landed when the tide was full, causing even bigger damages," Choi Myong-sun, a fisherman, told local television. "The typhoon was so strong that our preventive steps were not useful at all."

In Masan, sea water flooded into the basement of a shopping centre, Kang Meyong-hwan, a Masan city official told Reuters. Rescuers had been unable to contact the 12 or so people thought to be trapped in the karaoke bar there, he said.

The storm knocked down 1,000-tonne cranes and tossed boats against each other. At least 82 vessels sank in huge seas and fishing boats were stacked like driftwood on shore roads.

The typhoon halted operations at four nuclear power plants, cutting electricity to 1.4 million homes, as the country celebrated the three-day Thanksgiving festival of Chusok. Power had been restored to all but 140,000 homes by Sunday afternoon.

Up to 453 mm (17.8 inches) of rain was dumped across some areas. Authorities issued flood warnings along the Nakdong river, which flows through the centre and south of the country, as overflowing dams had to open floodgates.

About 25,000 people had to be evacuated, the disaster office said. Several thousand were still camped out in public buildings on Sunday.


South Kyeongsang province was the worst affected. Mudslides swept away roads and at least 15 people drowned.

A landslide in the central province of Chungchong derailed a train bound for Seoul, injuring 28 aboard, television said.

The world's largest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co, said giant waves threw a 200,000-tonne offshore storage facility under construction for ExxonMobil Corp into a 37,000-tonne petrochemicals carrier being built by Hyundai Mipo Dockyard for a German firm. Both were damaged.

The typhoon and related floods damaged 9,373 hectares (23,160 acres) of farmland, which could send rice prices rising. About 20 companies, including oil refiners and chemicals manufacturers, in Kyoungsang province were shut down.

Japan's meteorological agency said Typhoon Maemi had weakened into a tropical depression, causing only minor damage on the northern island of Hokkaido. A 79-year-old fisherman was missing after being washed away by high waves.

Typhoons often strike South Korea at this time of year. Last September, Typhoon Rusa killed more than 100 people.

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