BUSAN, South Korea (AP) — South Korean officials evacuated thousands of coastal residents Thursday as a powerful tropical storm started to pummel the country’s southern regions.
The Korean Meteorological Administration said Khanun will make landfall soon and likely pound the country with intense rains and winds while slowly plowing through the Korean Peninsula for hours, with its eyes brushing the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. The storm’s strength is expected to be diminished when it moves on to North Korea early Friday, but forecasters said the greater Seoul area would still feel its force until Friday afternoon.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has called for officials to be aggressive with disaster prevention measures and evacuations while stressing the perils posed by the storm, which comes just weeks after central and southern regions were pounded by torrential rain that triggered flashfloods and landslides that killed at least 47 people.
As of 8:30 a.m., Khanun was passing waters 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the mainland port of Tongyeong, packing maximum winds blowing at 126 kph (78 mph) while moving at the speed of 22 kph (13 mph).
The southern regions were starting to feel the full force of the storm, with winds blowing as hard as 126 kph (78 mph) in Busan. The storm since Wednesday dumped around 30 centimeters (12 inches) of rain in some areas in the southern resort island of Jeju and the southern mainland city of Changwon.
More than 10,000 people, mostly in the country’s southern regions, were ordered to evacuate from their homes as of Thursday morning, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said. Around 340 flights were grounded and nearly 400 motorways were shut down. Ferry services were halted while more than 60,000 fishing vessels evacuated to port. Authorities advised schools to take the day off or delay their opening hours, issuing warnings about flooding, landslides and huge waves triggered by what forecasters describe as typhoon-strength winds.
During a disaster response meeting on Thursday, Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min ordered officials to tightly restrict access to riverside trails, low-lying coastal roads and underpass tunnels and swiftly evacuate residents in risk areas who live in basement-level homes or houses near mountains.
“If the storm penetrates the country as forecasters predict, not one region will be safe,” Lee said.
There weren’t immediate reports of storm-related deaths or injuries.
Khanun’s arrival in South Korea came after the storm roamed through southern Japan for more than a week. In Kagoshima prefecture of Kyushu island, 12,000 homes were out of power on Wednesday while more than 1,800 people have taken shelters at nearby community centers, hotels, and other facilities.
Seven people were hurt, two seriously, after falling or being hit by flying objects. Regional train operations were halted, as were flights and ferry services connecting the prefecture with other Japanese cities.
Up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of rainfall is expected in Kyushu and the nearby island of Shikoku through Thursday evening, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which warned residents against mudslides, flooding and high winds.
Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea.