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Rep. of Korea: Typhoon devastates the nation's south

República de Corea
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87 dead, 28 missing as the "storm of the century" roars through

The most powerful typhoon in at least a century ravaged the southern part of the Korean Peninsula over the weekend, killing at least 87 persons and leaving 28 missing. The winds and rain flooded the homes of more than 8,900 people, destroyed nearly 860 buildings, washed away roads and bridges, triggered landslides and sank 43 ships. Preliminary damage estimates were put at 450 billion won ($384 million).

Typhoon Maemi - the name is the Korean word for cicada, the insect - made landfall on the peninsula's southern coast Friday evening and raged northeast until it dissipated Saturday in the East Sea (Sea of Japan). "It was the most powerful typhoon since weather observations began in 1904," Yoon Seok-hwan of the Korea Meteorological Administration said Saturday.

A significant part of the death toll came when wind-whipped waves and heavy rain swamped an arcade building in Masan, a coastal city in South Gyeongsang province. Scores of people were trapped in the basement floors of the building, and rescue teams have recovered 12 drowning victims so far. About 15 were still missing, local officials said.

The record-breaking winds of 60 meters per second (135 miles per hour), toppled eight 80-meter-tall cranes in the container yards at Busan Port. Another three were damaged, the National Disaster Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters said yesterday. A maritime official said the port might not be back in full operation for a year.

By 2:30 a.m. Saturday, the typhoon's center had cleared the coast near Uljin, North Gyeongsang province.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Typhoon Maemi ruined more than 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) of farmland across the nation. The storm unleashed up to 79 millimeters (3.1 inches) per hour of rain at times, damaging 30,000 hectares of rice paddies just before the harvest was to have begun. Officials said road damage has hampered damage assessment efforts in the countryside. Rail service was quickly restored, except in the mountainous Gangwon province, where two damaged lines may be out of operation for a month.

Most highways were still passable after the typhoon blew over, but workers labored until late yesterday to repair a part of the Jungang Expressway. As of 6:30 p.m. yesterday, authorities said all express highways were open.

At the height of the storm, about 1.5 million households across the nation lost power; about 1.3 million had power restored by yesterday. The typhoon destroyed some communications infrastructure, leaving parts of Busan and the Gyeongsang provinces without telephone service, but the majority of those services have already been restored.

Two million Busan residents lost water supplies after purifying stations were damaged by the storm. About 200,000 people in the area were still without water yesterday.

Three oil tankers sank in the storm - one each near Busan, Yeosu and Jeju. Five nuclear power plants in Gori and Wolseong were shut down because power transmission lines were damaged. Officials emphasized that the plants were unharmed.

by Ser Myo-ja

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