South Korea is spared as typhoon Hinnamnor makes swift exit
By John Yoon
South Korea on Tuesday was hit by heavy rain and strong winds but avoided the extensive destruction that many had feared as Typhoon Hinnamnor made its way out to sea faster than forecasters had expected.
By Tuesday evening, three deaths had been reported and eight people were missing, authorities said. The damage nationwide appeared to be limited. There was isolated flooding, trees were felled, street lamps broken and about 66,000 homes lost power, mostly in the south. Forty inches of rain were recorded on Jeju Island and 11 inches in cities near the southern coastal region.
Cheong Tae Sung, an expert in flooding with South Korea’s National Disaster Management Research Institute, said the deadly floods that struck the country last month had made both the public and the authorities more prepared to manage the dangers of Hinnamnor, one of the strongest storms ever to reach South Korean shores.
“Compared to the past, we did a lot more preparation before this typhoon, suspending schools, delaying the work day, closing roads — and simply getting the word out,” he said.
When its eye reached the southern coast at 4:50 a.m., Hinnamnor was packing maximum sustained winds of 89 mph — making it the eighth-strongest typhoon, but not the most powerful, to make landfall in South Korean history.
Areas along the southern coast, like Pohang, a city of about 500,000 north of Busan, were among the hardest hit, with homes, roads and cars submerged and bridges collapsed. The nation’s largest steel plant, Posco, based in Pohang, suspended operations because of the flooding.
A 75-year-old woman in the area died while trying to reach dry land. A woman in her 60s, also from the area, was found dead in an underground parking lot. Another victim died in a landslide in Gyeongju, on the southeast coast, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.
Still, Hinnamnor crossed the country’s southern coast swiftly, slipping back out to sea by 7:10 a.m. and leaving much less damage than had been expected.
Weather experts said the storm’s quick exit helped minimize the destruction.
“The fact that the typhoon was only on land for about two hours probably affected how much damage it did,” Lee Gwang-hyun, a forecast analyst at the Korea Meteorological Service, said at a news briefing Tuesday. “A typhoon’s strength does not have a perfectly one-to-one correlation with the amount of wind and rain it brings.”
By Tuesday evening, the skies had cleared throughout South Korea and Hinnamnor was about 300 miles southwest of Sapporo, Japan, making its way northeast. It was expected to downgrade to a temperate cyclone about 270 miles northwest of Sapporo, at around midnight, the Korea Meteorological Service said.
The record-breaking deluge that struck South Korea last month killed 15 people across the country, including a family of three who drowned in their semi-underground basement apartment. President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was criticized for his response, promised measures to prevent a similar disaster.
As Hinnamnor neared, the government emphasized the importance of evacuating those at risk. It sent out 412 typhoon-related mobile safety alerts, including evacuation orders, in different regions over a five-day period.
Under government orders to evacuate high-risk areas, more than 14,000 people left their homes before the storm arrived, authorities said. After Hinnamnor made landfall, about 4,500 additional people were evacuated, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.
The authorities also closed roads and major bridges, including along the Han River, which flows through Seoul, to prevent vehicles from becoming submerged. Many high-speed trains and flights to Jeju Island were suspended. Busan halted public transportation Tuesday morning.
Hinnamnor’s force was comparable to that of two devastating typhoons from two decades ago, Rusa and Maemi. In 2002, Typhoon Rusa swept across South Korea, leaving dozens dead and destroying more than 1 million homes. The following year, Typhoon Maemi killed more than 100 people and caused $1.6 billion in damage.
The links between tropical storms and climate change are becoming more apparent. Researchers have found that global warming has increased the frequency of major storms because a warmer ocean provides more of the energy needed to fuel storms.
Although the damage from Hinnamnor was less severe than expected, Cheong said there needed to be more preparation for flooding, particularly along the coast, on which the South Korean seafood industry depends.
“We need to be more concerned about rising sea levels,” he said. “We’re going to see more powerful storms that we might not yet be prepared for.”