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S. Korea cleans up after typhoon kills 78
( 2003-09-14 15:53) (Agencies)

Thousands of soldiers were deployed Sunday to search for missing people, repair roads and distribute relief supplies after 78 people were killed in the most powerful typhoon to hit South Korea in at least a century.

Helicopters ferried food and other supplies to flooded towns and villages in the southeastern part of peninsular South Korea, which was mauled by Typhoon Maemi on Friday night.

Packing record winds of 135 mph, the typhoon lifted shipping containers in the air, toppled gigantic cranes and flipped an evacuated cruise ship on its side in Busan, South Korea's second largest city and the worst-hit urban area.

The National Disaster Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters said 78 people were confirmed dead nationwide and 24 were listed as missing and feared killed. However, the national news agency, Yonhap, put the death toll at 83 and missing at 31.

The typhoon exited South Korea on Saturday and dissipated into the East Sea on Sunday. Seoul, the capital, was unaffected.

On Sunday, the government released $1.2 billion for relief and recovery work across the country, the disaster agency said in a statement.

Of the 25,000 people fled their homes, about 7,000 remained camped in schools and public buildings Sunday.

The government said more than 5,600 soldiers were deployed to support the recovery work, to repair roads and search for missing people. The Ministry of Health and Welfare provided blankets, clothing and meals for typhoon victims,

Traffic remained in chaos because of flooding, damaged signals and uprooted road signs.

Maemi Korean for `cicada' dumped rainfall of up to 17.8 inches. It was the most powerful typhoon since the South Korean weather office began keeping records in 1904, topping the 129.6 mph wind speed record set by Typhoon Prapiroon in 2000.

Maemi also hit several parts of North Korea with strong winds and rainfall of up to 7.32 inches, Yonhap said. The extent of damage, if any, was not known because North Korea's Stalinist government tightly controls information.

In Busan, the country's main port, 11 container-lifting cranes were toppled, their green and red steel limbs twisted beyond recognition. Steel containers as long as 20 feet were scattered around the port.

A cruise ship-turned-floating hotel that had been evacuated earlier flipped over and lay on its side in shallow water. At least 18 empty fishing boats capsized. Five of the nation's 18 nuclear power plants were shut down after their main transformers or power lines were damaged by the typhoon, the government said. It said no radiation leakage was reported.

Thirty-four major factories in the cities of Ulsan and Onsan, including two major oil refineries, were forced to temporarily halt operations, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.

The government said 12,626 acres of farmland, including rice paddies and orchards, were flooded ahead of the fall harvest season, raising concern that prices of rice the country's staple food may rise significantly.

The state-run Korea Electric Power Corp. said 1.47 million homes spent Friday and Saturday night without power. Power was restored to most homes by Sunday.

South Korea is usually hit by a few typhoons each summer and early fall. In September last year, Typhoon Rusa left at least 119 dead. The most devastating typhoon ever to hit South Korea was Sara, which killed 849 people in 1959.

Sara and Maemi took roughly the same route across South Korea, but Sara took a heavier toll because the country was ill-prepared for the disaster at that time.

 
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