7 Bodies Pulled from Flooded Road Tunnel in South Korea as Rains Cause Flash Floods and Landslides

In this photo provided by South Korea National Fire Agency, rescuers search for survivors along a road submerged by floodwaters leading to an underground tunnel in Cheongju, South Korea, Sunday, July 16, 2023. Photo: South Korea National Fire Agency via AP

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean rescue workers pulled seven bodies from a flooded tunnel where around 15 vehicles were trapped in muddy water, as days of heavy rain triggered flash floods and landslides and destroyed homes across the country. Flooding and landslides have killed at least 33 people in Korea and forced thousands to evacuate, officials said Sunday.

Nearly 400 rescue workers, including divers, were searching the tunnel in the central city of Cheongju, where the vehicles, including a bus, were swamped by a flash flood Saturday evening, Seo Jeong-il, chief of the city’s fire department, said in a briefing.

Fire officials estimated that the tunnel filled with water in as little as two or three minutes.

Photos and video from the scene showed rescue workers establishing a perimeter and pumping brown water out of the tunnel as divers used rubber boats to move in and out of the area.

Yang Chan-mo, an official from the North Chungcheong provincial fire department, said it could take several hours to pump out all the water from the tunnel, which was still filled with 4 to 5 meters (13 to 16.4 feet) of water dense with mud and other debris. Workers were proceeding slowly with the work to prevent any victims or survivors from being swept out, Yang said.

Nine survivors were rescued from the tunnel and 11 others were believed to be missing based on reports by families or others, but the exact number of passengers trapped in vehicles wasn’t immediately clear, Seo said.

South Korea has been pounded by heavy rains since July 9. The rainfall had forced more than 6,100 people to evacuate and left 27,260 households without electricity in the past several days while flooding or destroying dozens of homes, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said. At least 22 people were being treated for injuries.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on a trip to Europe, discussed the rain-related casualties and damages during an emergency meeting while traveling to Poland on a train after visiting Ukraine on Saturday, according to his office. Yoon called for officials to mobilize all available resources to respond to the disaster.

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