SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s military warned Thursday that buried land mines may have slid down mountains eroded by flooding rains this week as the death toll from the torrential downpours rose to at least 57.
Massive rainfall since Tuesday has severely disrupted life in Seoul — which has more than 10 million people — and surrounding areas, submerging streets filled with idled cars, flooding subway stations and forcing businesses to shut.
The rain stopped or decreased Thursday, but more was forecast until Friday morning.
At least 57 people have died due to rain-induced landslides, flooding and accidents related to the preciptation, officials said. At least 12 people were confirmed missing.
The Korea Meteorological Administration said that Wednesday’s rainfall in Seoul of 12 inches (301.5 millimeters) was the biggest one-day amount in the capital since 1998 and the third highest ever.
At a mountain in Seoul where a deadly slide hit Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said mines placed there in the 1960s could have shifted. Soldiers with metal detectors were waiting to search for the mines, said Yoon Yong-sam, a spokesman for the air force, which had planted them around an air defense base on the mountain.
A defense ministry official said that 10 mines could have been pushed down Wumyeon Mountain in southern Seoul. The official declined to be named because of policy. Another ministry official, spokesman Kim Min-seok, played down the immediate risk because a concrete wall on the hillside could be stopping the mines.
The National Emergency Management Agency said late Thursday no one was still missing at Wumyeon Mountain.
South Korea’s military dug up many land mines on the mountain between 1999 and 2006, but about 10 couldn’t be accounted for, officials said. Fences around the base have warnings about unaccounted land mines, which are relics from past decades when fears of a North Korean land invasion were higher and the area was sparsely populated.
There were fears of land mines in northern provinces also hit by flooding and slides, prompting the Joint Chiefs of Staff to order mine-search operations where needed.
Separately, North Korea’s state media reported that heavy rains have hit much of the country and destroyed homes and buildings.
“Thousands of dwelling houses and hundreds of industrial establishments, schools and public buildings were destroyed,” the offiicla Korean Central news Agency reported late Thursday.
Impoverished North Korea is susceptible to damage from heavy rains due to por drainage and deforestation. Floods in 2007 left some 600 people dead or missing and about 100,000 others homeless.
The landslide Wednesday in southern Seoul killed at least 18 people. About 5,000 firefighters, soldiers, police officers and others mobilized Thursday to try to find any survivors and clean walls of mud piled in neighborhoods near the base of the mountain, emergency official Kim Wu-min said.
Bae Jin-sun, a 27-year-old who works in southern Seoul, said she was worried about the safety of rescue workers. “There is still the possibility of a land mine falling through the cracks,” she said.
Footage by YTN television network showed excavators removing a mass of mud and fallen tree parts and rescuers in raincoats shoveling up the dirt piled up near an apartment. Uniformed soldiers and firefighters wearing cotton gloves used their hands to pull out rocks and tree branches from the mud.
Another landslide early Wednesday killed 10 college students sleeping in a resort cabin in Chuncheon, north of Seoul. The students from Inha University in Incheon, just west of Seoul, were volunteering at a local elementary school.
The National Emergency Management Agency reported 18 more deaths because of a stream flooding and landslides elsewhere in towns near Seoul. No deaths of foreigners have been reported.
The rainfall left almost 5,000 people homeless, flooded about 1,380 houses and caused power outages at more than 125,000 homes throughout the country, the agency said in a statement Thursday.