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Seoul officials under fire as storm toll hits 59
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) July 29, 2011

South Korean city planners and developers were blamed Friday for allegedly causing "man-made" disasters that killed at least 59 people and left thousands homeless after record rainfall this week.

Among the dead were 16 killed when mudslides hit southern parts of Seoul on Wednesday and 13 who perished in a landslide in the Chuncheon region, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the capital.

Three others died in a landslide at Paju north of Seoul.

Experts and news media attacked local authorities in Seoul, accusing them of making the situation worse through an allegedly reckless development of hills near residential areas in the south of the capital.

Some hillsides were redeveloped into public parks and hiking tracks, meaning rainwater could not be absorbed so easily, and natural waterways were changed to make artificial lakes, critics said.

"The heavens alone are not to be blamed for the disaster as reckless development made it worse. This is why there are claims the disaster is man-made," Joongang Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial.

Experts have been warning that such activities might trigger landslides, it said.

"However, administrative authorities have turned a deaf ear to them," the daily said in its editorial headlined "Showcase development triggered disaster".

Some residents living under Mount Umyeon in southern Seoul, where eight landslides occurred, believe the disaster was preventable.

A storm last September felled many trees on the mountain. But official efforts to replace the trees had been slow, they told the Korea JoongAng Daily, leaving the mountain vulnerable to landslides.

The weather agency was also criticised for failing to forecast the freakishly heavy downpour, which battered the capital city of 10 million and densely populated surrounding areas.

A total of 301.5 millimetres (just over 12 inches) of rain fell in Seoul on Wednesday, the largest single-day rainfall in July since records began in 1907.

For three days from Tuesday, Seoul received 536 mm of rain, the most for a three-day period in July since 1907.

The rains left more than 11,000 people from 5,250 households homeless. Power supply was cut to 130,000 houses nationwide, the disaster management agency said.

The defence ministry said 17,000 troops across the country would be mobilised Friday to help a huge clean-up. Police, troops and firefighters were backed up by a host of volunteers.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, nearly 1,000 of them helped clean up residential areas and roads in the south of the city and assisted homeowners, the Seoul Volunteer Center said.

The heavy rains also battered North Korea, causing "great damage to the people's economy", the official news agency said late Thursday.

According to a preliminary tally, 35,700 hectares (88,223 acres) of rice paddies were inundated, thousands of homes and hundreds of workplaces, schools and public buildings were destroyed, it said.

The south and east were the worst-hit regions, where downpours of up to 500 mm fell from Tuesday to Thursday, it said. The impoverished communist state is already suffering from serious food shortages.

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Philippines storm death toll rises to 41
Manila (AFP) July 29, 2011 - The death toll in the Philippines from tropical storm Nock-ten climbed to 41 on Friday, as millions of people across the main island of Luzon mopped up after a week of heavy rain, officials said.

Food and medical supplies were being sent by land to hard-hit areas, especially Bicol on the southeastern tip of Luzon as widespread floods ebbed, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

Bicol officials have asked the national government for help in speeding up search and rescue work, and aid delivery, said its executive director Benito Ramos.

"Aircraft (are) on standby, ready to take off as soon as the weather becomes safe for flying," Ramos said.

Nock-ten, named after a Laotian bird, blew out into the South China Sea on Thursday after causing floods and landslides, heading towards China's Hainan island.

Ramos' office said Friday rescuers had found six more dead in Bicol and in the mountainous north over the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 41.

Twenty-four people remained missing, it said, mostly fishermen and crews of small vessels toppled by huge waves at sea.

Meanwhile, the state weather service said it was closely monitoring another storm, Muifa, churning east of Bicol with peak winds of 75 kilometres (45 miles) an hour.

But it said Muifa, named after a Chinese flower, was still too far to affect any part of the country and could still veer north and away from land.

An average of 20 storms and typhoons, many of them deadly, hit the Philippines annually. Nock-ten was the 10th this year.

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Japan passes second recovery budget
Tokyo (AFP) July 25, 2011
Japan's parliament on Monday enacted a $25 billion extra budget to pay for relief and rebuilding after the March 11 quake-tsunami, as Prime Minister Naoto Kan faced mounting pressure to resign. Earlier in the day a ruling party heavyweight suggested Kan could be closer to stepping down with the budget enacted. The upper house approved the two-trillion-yen second extra budget for fiscal 2 ... read more

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