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Rep. of Korea: Flood victims wait for promised aid

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République de Corée
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JoongAng
Date de publication

Seven families are still living in container houses in the small village of Hawolcheon-ri in Gangwon province, originally home to 20 households. Now there are only 10 families there, and only three live in permanent dwellings. The village was devastated by Typhoon Rusa nine months ago. Roads into the village were washed out, fields and orchards were lost and all the crops destroyed. A bridge over a stream in the village was also washed out and has still not been rebuilt, although a few bulldozers occasionally push dirt around the abutments.

"My house was destroyed by the horrifying flood," said 68-year-old Kim Jin-hang, who lives alone in one of the container houses, which are sea shipping containers fitted out as spartan living quarters. She was able to escape from the area when the typhoon hit, but she lost everything - her house, furniture and appliances, a pear orchard and her livestock.

"After the flood, I moved into the elementary school in the village and lived there with other flood victims for about three months. Then, the county government installed the temporary house for me."

She said there were once 10 container homes in the village, but three families have moved back into new permanent homes built by the government; the other residents probably will never return.

Ms. Kim said she needed more government help; she now has no source of income. The government, she added, has offered her compensation for rebuilding her house, "condolence money," and a supply of food. "I don't know what I'll do after the food runs out," she said mournfully.

"I don't want to live in this tiny box any more. I want to live in my old house," said Lee Keum-nam, Ms. Kim's 75-year-old neighbor. She lives with her husband in another shipping container. "The county government promised my family that they would complete the construction by this summer. But I don't think they will ever finish rebuilding my old house."

"I need to finish my planting by the end of May," said Um Gi-won, 66, who moved out of a container home two months ago. But nothing has been done to repair our ruined fields. Isn't it the government's responsibility to provide people with basic necessities such as food?"

Mr. Um added that he was thankful to the government because it offered 30 million won to each flood victim to rebuild their ruined houses.

"But I am tired of waiting for everything to get back to normal, the way it was before the flood attacked," he concluded.

Ten construction workers were working on roads in the area, but the village still looks very much like a disaster scene.

The typhoon devastated eastern and southern South Korea on August 23. Nationwide, 213 people lost their lives and 33 are still missing; Gangwon province took the brunt of the storm's fury, with 128 deaths, 62 injuries and 2.5 trillion won ($2 billion) of the estimated 5.1 trillion won of damage in Korea caused by the typhoon. Rainfall in Gangwon province because of the storm was about 900 millimeters (3 feet). About 40,000 people were left homeless there.

And another natural disaster was waiting in the wings; heavy snowfall hit several parts of Gangwon province last winter, up to 700 millimeters of snow for the season, giving the typhoon survivors another set of woes to contend with.

The central government and the Gangwon provincial government began to install temporary houses for flood victims two months after the typhoon hit; the steel containers they are using have electrical, gas and water connections. About 630 families lived in these quarters in Gangwon province through the winter, including 130 families in Yangyang county, where Hawolcheon-ri is located. About half have since moved into new permanent homes.

The typhoon triggered an outpouring of concern and donations for victims; media outlets, charitable groups and other local governments raised about 145 billion won in private relief funds to help the survivors. Gangwon province was allotted about half the money, according to the National Council for Disaster Relief.

Gangwon's Yangyang-gun, with a population of about 300,000, had 130 families in container houses during the winter. The county was allocated 15.4 billion won of the charitable donations to aid victims directly and to help rebuild the county's infrastructure, according to Yang Yoo-gyeong, an official at the county office.

A provincial official said the recovery work should be completed by July, but said only 50 percent of the work province-wide has been finished so far. She cited budget problems and disputes over property valuations with flood victims. all over the province on account of lacking budget and conflict with flood victims. Ms. Yang at the county office said they are still negotiating with flood victims on the amount of compensation.

"People who owned and cultivated ruined fields in the county are not happy with the government's recovery plan," Mr. Yang said. "Basically, they think the sums are too small."

The compensation for destroyed farming areas ranges from 450,000 won to 5 million won.

Lee Yong-in, a representative of the Hawolcheon-ri residents, said a lot of time has passed, people are still in pain and living in small steel boxes without toilet facilities. "Maybe it is not time for negotiations over who should pay how much to whom," he continued. "Another typhoon will surely be coming to Korea this year. The government should get the flood victims out of the boxes and move them to safer places. Now."

by Kim Hae-noon <celine54@joongang.co.kr>

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