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The worst underground roadway flooding in history

Posted July. 18, 2023 08:00,   

Updated July. 18, 2023 08:00


The Osong underground roadway flooding, one of the worst accidents in history, could have been averted if there had been timely traffic intervention. Yet, the chain of administrative bodies, those custodians entrusted with the protection of our residents, seem to have engaged in a torturous game of pass-the-parcel with accountability. The tragedy unfolded within their jurisdiction, yet blame was swiftly shuttled from the district office to the city hall, from city hall to the provincial office - a round-robin of responsibility avoidance.

On the day the tragedy occurred, the Geum River Flood Control Center alerted the Heungdeok District Office a good two hours and ten minutes ahead of the flood. The need was clear: traffic control at the Gungpyeong 2 underground roadway in Osong-eup. However, the district office swiftly washed its hands of the matter, asserting notification of the city hall. The latter, in turn, passed the buck on the grounds of provincial jurisdiction, with no effort to inform the provincial office, while saying the matter belonged to the provincial government. The North Chungcheong Provincial Office cited "force majeure" and "substandard flood prevention" for the accident- a disturbing display of abdication of responsibility from organizations expected to be aware of their locales. Seven flood-related reports were lodged with the police, who chose not to respond to the accident scene due to an alleged "lack of personnel." Furthermore, despite receiving these reports and arriving at the scene, the fire department failed to plug the breached floodgate, declaring it “outside their remit.” They exited the scene without a handover to a relevant agency. As for the executive branch, when questioned about the possibility of the President aborting his Ukraine visit due to the flooding, the President's Office replied, "Rushing back to Korea won't change the situation." Thirteen lives were lost to a disaster borne of administrative inadequacy, yet not a single admission of guilt or accountability.

The Osong underpass flooding can trace its origins to the collapse of a makeshift embankment along the nearby Miho River. The recent deluge in the southern and central regions led to the loss of dams in as many as 169 locales, Miho River included. Astonishingly, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, even now, struggle to identify the bodies responsible for managing these embankment-bereft rivers. Criticisms mount about inefficient management, as the custodianship of most river maintenance and disaster preparedness activities - barring those concerning the five major rivers and a selection of national rivers - are splintered across various local governments. This division of authority has generated blind spots in management and sparked jurisdictional disputes between upstream and downstream and the main and tributary bodies of the same river. As water control forms the bedrock of national politics, it is imperative that we lay the groundwork for a cohesive, organic river management system.

The staggering damage inflicted by the recent three-day torrential rains in the south and central region surpasses even that of an average monsoon month. Global weather patterns grow increasingly capricious, and both the intensity and the character of natural disasters are shifting. Consequently, proactive and flexible approaches to disaster prevention and response have never been more critical. If public service continues to erect silos between departments, content with passive conservatism and administrative convenience, we will be doomed to repeat such catastrophes, where despite predicted weather, administrative failure paves the way for disaster.