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6 Campers Missing After NK Dam Discharges Water

Posted September. 08, 2009 11:41,   


Six South Korean campers went missing yesterday around the Imjin River after North Korea abruptly released discharged water from the Hwanggang Dam 27 kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone.

The campers were in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province, upstream of the Imjin River.

A South Korean tank was also briefly isolated while on a training mission by the Imjin River, and fishermen also suffered tens of thousands of dollars in lost nets due to the discharge.

In October 2001, the North conducted a sudden discharge of water without prior notice to the South, and has since done so on six other occasions. This is the first time that casualties have occurred, however.

Seven people were camping in tents about two kilometers downstream Imjin Bridge in the village of Ujeong in Misan township around 5 a.m., when the water level unexpectedly surged. Five people went missing while a 12-year-old child and an adult survived.

The adult survivor said, “I heard water flowing while sleeping and went out to see water sweeping into our tents. I barely escaped. Others were swept away by the fast currents.”

A man who was fishing at Biryong Bridge at the village of Nogok in Baekhak township about five kilometers downstream also went missing after being swept away around 7:20 a.m.

Ten K1 tanks of the South Korean Army were on a training mission near Imjin Bridge when water surged around 5:30 a.m., but nine escaped. One was stranded briefly but got away later.

South Korean fishermen suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage, as nets for crab fishing and boats were swept away from the townships of Papyeong and Jeokseong in Paju going downstream on the Imjin River around 6 a.m. The military, police and firefighters mobilized more than 800 personnel and six helicopters to search for the missing.

According to the Han River Flood Control Center, the water level at the Imjin River in early morning was normal at 720 tons of streaming water per second. The volume abruptly surged to 1,978 tons per second around 5 a.m., however, raising the water level at Imjin Bridge from 2.3 meters to as high as 4.96 meters.

The multipurpose Hwanggang Dam in North Korea can handle 300 million to 400 million tons of water. Pyongyang began filling the dam with water in late 2007 after its completion.

Seoul is analyzing the release of the water from the dam from diverse perspectives, including the possibility of a ploy to get the South to send aid to the North to improve inter-Korean ties.

A source at the (South) Korea Water Resources Corp. said, “Considering the water volume released, the water level seems to have surged because the Hwanggang Dam, not the April 5th Dam, discharged water to begin power generation in earnest.”

The Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul said over the past week, rain of just 0.2 millimeters fell Saturday in the Pyonggang area, where the Hwanggang Dam is located. So the weather authority said chances are low that the North conducted the discharge to control the dam’s water level.

argus@donga.com jjj@donga.com