S Korea tunnel tragedy: Officials ignored multiple warnings

The body of a victim recovered from the flooded tunnel following the torrential rain in South Korea
Image caption,The body of a victim recovered from the flooded tunnel following the torrential rain in South Korea

By Derek Cai

BBC News, Singapore

A total of 36 local officials in South Korea are under investigation for the tunnel flooding earlier this month that killed 14 people, authorities said.

An inquiry launched two days after the tragedy found that officials had ignored multiple warnings of a flood ahead of the incident.

Severe rains on the weekend of 15 July had caused widespread flooding and landslides in multiple places.

At least 40 people died in the disaster across the country.

The tunnel, located in city of Cheongju south of Seoul, was flooded with water from a nearby riverbank that had burst from the weekend of torrential rain.

Fifteen vehicles, including a bus, were trapped in the underpass submerged under water – only nine people survived. Authorities had to work for several days to free the vehicles.

Following the incident, police launched an investigation to determine the cause and found that it could have been prevented.

“[The flood] was the result of numerous agencies failing to recognise the seriousness of the situation and respond actively, despite receiving several warnings,” said Bang Moon-kyu, South Korea’s minister of government policy coordination.

Three calls warning of a possible tunnel flooding were made to the emergency hotlines on the day of the incident, he added.

A construction supervisor had similarly warned authorities seven times about the possibility that the tunnel would flood.

The public officials have been accused of failing to promptly assess and manage the situation. Two of them were found to have replaced the river embankment – walls meant to prevent flooding – with a weaker version.

“The government plans to seek the removal of positions for those responsible for the accident, even including elected positions,” said minister Bang.

Extreme rain and flooding have pummelled several other countries in Asia this month, including India, China, and Japan.

Scientists have long warned that climate change would make extreme weather events like heavy rainfall and heatwaves stronger and more likely.

Last year, South Korea saw http://nutriapel.com/ record-breaking rains, causing floods that killed at least 11 people, including two women and a teenager trapped in a semi-basement flat in Seoul.

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