‘We Couldn’t Do Something’: Family Drowns in Seoul Basement During Floods

SEOUL — At 4:40 p.m. on Monday, the 13-year-old woman texted her ​72-year-old ​grandmother ​who was ​in the hospital, wishing her properly and saying that she was praying for her fast restoration.

“How sweet of you, my little puppy!” the grandmother texted again.

That was the final time she ​talked along with her granddaughter.

Four hours later, floods triggered by considered one of ​South Korea’s heaviest rainfalls gushed down the steps into the three-room, semi-underground dwelling in southern Seoul the place {the teenager} had lived along with her mom, 47, and her aunt, 48.

The household had moved into the home seven years in the past. They knew the low-lying district was liable to flooding, but it surely was low cost and near a authorities welfare middle the place the aunt, who had Down syndrome, may get assist.

The heavy rainfalls that struck the Seoul metropolitan space from Monday till early Wednesday left six folks lacking and no less than 9 useless, together with the household of three, highlighting the predicament of South Korea’s city poor in addition to the nation’s housing disaster and rising inequality.

The water rolled down with such pressure that the household couldn’t push their solely door open, in line with neighbors and emergency officers. The woman’s mom banged on the door and known as her ​neighbors for assist. The neighbors known as ​the federal government’s 119 emergency response hotline ​on the household’s behalf, ​however so many flood victims had been dialing in that their calls didn’t undergo. ​

Two neighborhood males tried to rescue the household via the home’s street-level window, however they might not undergo the anti-theft, metal grating blocking the window. “The water filled the house so quickly we couldn’t do anything about it,” Jeon Ye-sung, 52, a neighbor, ​informed reporters.

Mr. Jeon ​rushed dwelling on Monday night after his daughter ​informed him on the cellphone that the water was gushing via the home windows into their ​personal ​semi-underground dwelling. He broke the home windows to rescue his three daughters. But​ he and one other neighbor couldn’t attain his neighbors.

By the time rescue officers pumped the water out early Tuesday, they discovered the household of three useless.

South Korea’s city poor usually dwell in banjiha, or semi-underground properties.​ The flood hazard of those underground properties was dramatically depicted in the South Korean film “Parasite,” which turned the primary foreign-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Film ​in 2020.

One of the 9 useless was a girl in her 50s who additionally lived in a semi-underground dwelling in Seoul. She fled the floodwater however returned to her dwelling to rescue her cat and didn’t make it out alive.

In Seoul, a metropolis the place sky-high housing costs are one of many greatest political points, dwelling excessive and dry in tall condo buildings constructed by the nation’s conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai is a standing image​.

But the poor usually dwell in low cost, damp and musty banjiha. Hundreds of 1000’s dwell in such properties in the congested metropolitan space, the place they battle to seek out jobs, lower your expenses and educate their kids to beat rising inequality.

Over the years, Seoul has provided to assist these dwelling in such basement flats, offering them with pumps and different gear to struggle floods. It has additionally renovated sewer programs in low-lying districts to assist drain rainwater extra shortly. The authorities has urged these dwelling in semi-underground basements to maneuver to state-owned flats with low cost rents.

Still, 1000’s of households dwell in banjiha, fearing floods every monsoon season. They construct small dikes with sandbags round their properties. When the floodwater recedes, they put their clothes and furnishings in alleyways to dry. In a survey in 2020, greater than half of the five hundred semi-underground households in two districts in Siheung, simply southwest of Seoul, reported their properties submerged in rainwater.

“When I returned home from work, I found my banjiha under water,” a semi-underground dweller wrote on the South Korean net portal Naver on Tuesday. “It felt as if heaven had crashed down on me.”

On Tuesday, when President Yoon Suk-yeol visited the neighbor​hood the place the household of three died, their dwelling was nonetheless crammed with waist-high​ floodwater. Pillows, furnishings and plastic luggage floated inside. Mr. Yoon needed to squat on the road exterior to look down into the house via the street-level window.

The neighborhood was strewn with luggage of rubbish, rain-damaged furnishings and electronics that households dragged out of their basement properties. “There is hardly anything we can salvage,” stated Park Kyong-ja, 77, who has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years.

​Choi Tae-young, the pinnacle of the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters, blamed the floodwater for blocking the door of the household’s dwelling. But neighbors accused the federal government of failing to alert residents to the approaching floods. The metropolis didn’t warn of the hazard of a close-by stream overflowing till 9:21 p.m. Monday, in line with native media and neighbors.

From inside their dwelling, the household of three known as neighbors between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., interesting for assist as a result of they might not get out. The teenager’s mom, who was recognized by the police and native media solely by her final title, Hong, additionally known as her mom in the hospital at 8:37 p.m., saying that she couldn’t open the door due to the floodwater, in line with the day by day newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.

“When I got out and rushed to their home, it was already filled with water and I could not see the inside,” Kim In-sook, a neighbor, informed reporters. Police and firefighters may pump out the water solely hours later.

Hong Seok-cheol, 46, who lives in a semi-underground dwelling subsequent door, left at 7:45 p.m. on Monday to eat out along with his spouse. When the couple returned dwelling 40 minutes later, they had been shocked to seek out the alleyway flooding. Their dwelling was crammed with water.

“The rain came so fast and furious and the pressure on drainage pipes underground was so strong that they burst open, worsening the flood,” Mr. Hong stated. “There was no way my wife and I could have made out if we had been trapped inside.”

Some of the home items belonging to the household of three sat exterior the four-story constructing on Wednesday, together with a white teddy bear. In the underground storage, 4 vehicles had been caked with mud.

“The torrential rainfall was the worst in 115 years,” Mr. Yoon, the president, stated throughout a gathering with emergency response officers on Wednesday. “The poor and the weak are more vulnerable to natural disasters. Our country will become safe when they feel safe​.”

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