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At least 8 dead in Seoul-area flooding amid record rainfall

People wade through floodwater in the Gangnam district of Seoul on Aug. 8. (AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL — At least eight people have died after record rainfall in South Korea on Monday and Tuesday, including the capital, Seoul, inundating city streets and flooding subway stations.

Photos and videos from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about 25 million people, showed half-submerged cars, people walking through waist-deep water and subway stations overflowing. Eight people died in floods, landslides and other incidents, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. Seven other people are missing, including four in Seoul’s Seocho district, where South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol lives.

At least eight people have died in the Seoul-area Aug. 9 after torrential rain knocked out power, caused landslides and left road and subways submerged. (Video: Reuters)

Yoon was getting briefed about the rain and giving instructions remotely overnight from his high-rise apartment, which was partly flooded on the ground level, according to his office.

“Nothing is more precious than life and safety. The government will thoroughly manage the heavy rain situation with the central disaster safety measures headquarters,” Yoon wrote in a Facebook post Monday.

In the nearby Gangnam district, a widely shared image showed a man in a suit sitting atop a submerged car in the upscale neighborhood.

The record rainfall — which had not ended as of Tuesday afternoon local time — was the worst in some parts of Seoul since 1904, the year officials began documenting precipitation. About 15 inches (381.5 millimeters) of rain hit southwestern Seoul on Monday, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. The next-highest rainfall day was Aug. 2, 1920, when 14 inches (354.7 millimeters) fell in Seoul.

The weather agency said additional torrential rain could fall in the days ahead.

On Tuesday, Yoon visited basement apartments in the Gwanak district of southern Seoul, including one where a 13-year-old and two adults drowned. Basement homes, where many of Seoul’s poorest residents live, exist throughout the city. He pointed out how “the marginalized groups in the society are even more vulnerable to disasters” and called for improvement of residential areas with poor safety, according to his spokeswoman.

In southern Seoul’s Dongjak district, a public worker who was clearing debris died in a suspected electrocution, according to the Interior and Safety Ministry. Two people were found dead under the rubble of a bus stop in the southern city of Gwangju.

Blackouts hit some parts of the city, and residents living in lower areas were told to evacuate.

The Korea Meteorological Administration issued downpour alerts through Monday night across central regions, warning that some areas would see 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 millimeters) of rain per hour. It also sent out heat advisories across eastern South Korean provinces.

These intense precipitation events around the world are increasing because of human-caused climate change, scientists say. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture and produce heavier rainfall.

The temperature in South Korea has warmed by nearly 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over the past century, which is faster than the global average. A report from the International Energy Agency states Korea’s precipitation has increased and that its average annual amount could rise by 6.8 inches (172.5 millimeters) by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

Joseph Hatfield, 36, a teacher in Seoul who recorded a video of the flooding in the city of Anyang in Gyeonggi province, south of Seoul, told The Washington Post he saw many people in first-floor units trying to remove water from their homes and businesses.

The torrential rain also slammed North Korea, causing floods and major damage in southern and western parts of the country. Its state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on Tuesday efforts to prevent damage at construction sites and power plants. Although the state media has not reported on casualties, the country is particularly vulnerable to heavy rain because of deforestation and a lack of resources.

The deluge is tied to the contrast between an intense pool of chilly air over southeast Russia and a heat dome over China. A stalled front separates these opposing air masses and is acting like train tracks for the repeated passage of heavy thunderstorms over the Korean Peninsula.

Exceptional amounts of atmospheric moisture are pooling along this front — more than double what’s typical — fueling the historic rainfall. Precipitable water — a measure of the atmospheric moisture content from cloud height down to the ground — is 2.5 to 3 inches (64 to 76 millimeters), which would challenge records even along the super-humid U.S. Gulf Coast.

This pattern is stuck and may not break down until sometime next week. Forecast simulations show extraordinary amount of moisture continuing to flow over the Korean Peninsula, feeding repeated waves of heavy rainfall. They project another 5 to 10 inches (125 to 250 millimeters) of rain over the next 7 days, and, locally, higher amounts are probable in the most intense downpours.

Westfall and Samenow reported from Washington.

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