Tragedy Strikes as Tunnel Flooding Claims Lives in South Korea
In a devastating incident in Osong, Bắc Chungcheong, South Korea, a tunnel measuring 685 meters fell victim to torrential rains, resulting in catastrophic flooding. The nearby Miho River, a significant tributary of the Geum River, overflowed its banks on July 15, causing the tunnel to become submerged under 60,000 tons of water.
Ignorance and Lack of Warnings Put Lives at Risk
What makes this tragedy even more heart-wrenching is the fact that numerous vehicles continued to traverse the tunnel when a flood warning had been issued four hours prior. Despite the absence of barricades, warning signs, or enforcement personnel to prevent entry into the tunnel, drivers appeared oblivious to the impending danger.
- At around 8:40 AM local time (6:40 AM Hanoi time), as the water rushed in, dozens of vehicles were still passing through the tunnel.
- Unaware of the flood warning, many drivers only realized the severity of the situation when another motorist, who had already turned back and was driving against the flow, honked his horn and shouted for everyone to flee.
- In a race against time, those who reacted to the warning quickly turned on their emergency lights and began reversing.
Narrow Escapes and the Rush to Survival
The horrifying events unfolded rapidly. Within three minutes, the Osong tunnel transformed into an abyss, filled with the weight of 60,000 tons of merciless water. Fortunately, some drivers managed to navigate through the narrowing window of safety and escape just in the nick of time.
Park Jong-sun, a driver who had never used this particular route before, recounted his harrowing experience. Initially, everything seemed normal as he entered the tunnel, but upon nearing the exit, traffic began to slow down. It was at this moment that murky water cascaded in from both sides. Jong-sun vividly recalls the fear and panic that gripped him as he witnessed the rising water levels. He acknowledges that had he been just five minutes slower, his chances of survival would have been slim.
Lee Sang-won, driving a white truck, also fought desperately to escape the tunnel as the water rose up to his license plate. Flickering between lanes, he pushed the accelerator to its limit with only one thought in mind – to emerge from this watery grave alive.
Grim Search and Rescue Operations
When the search and rescue operation concluded on the night of July 17, it became apparent that the floodwaters had claimed a significant number of lives. Out of the 17 trapped vehicles, a total of 14 people had tragically met their demise inside the submerged tunnel.
A particularly haunting phone call revealed the desperate efforts of a 24-year-old medical student who tragically perished on a bus. In her final conversation with a friend, she relayed the driver’s intention to break a window and facilitate the passengers’ escape. Unfortunately, all contact was abruptly lost thereafter.
Calls for Investigation and Accountability
Given the magnitude of this catastrophe, a specialized investigative unit has been established to uncover the series of events leading to this tragedy. Strong criticism has been directed towards the authorities in Osong for their failure to adequately warn residents and implement necessary safety measures.
The investigation will particularly scrutinize the flood control measures executed by local officials, with a specific focus on understanding why traffic restrictions were not enforced in the tunnel despite the flood warning being issued.
Heavy Rains Exacerbate the Toll
South Korea has been grappling with the repercussions of extensive rainfall, resulting in a mounting death toll. The recent floods have claimed the lives of 41 individuals, with an additional 9 reported missing. The majority of fatalities were caused by landslides and drowning in submerged reservoirs.
By Duc Trung and Doan Ninh