From: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters
Published August 26, 2007 04:38 PM

N.Korea Floods Left 600 People Dead Or Missing

SEOUL - Some of the worst flooding to hit North Korea in decades has killed at least 600 people, double the previous known toll, the official news agency said at the weekend.


The reclusive North had earlier told international aid agencies, and reported in its official media, that 300 people had been killed or were missing after floods and landslides brought about by weeks of heavy rain this month.


"The unusual heavy rain caused huge material losses to the DPRK, creating unprecedented difficulties in people's living and economic construction," the official KCNA news agency said. The North's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.


"According to the information available from the Central Statistics Bureau, torrential rain, strong winds and landslides left at least 600 people dead or missing and thousands of people wounded," KCNA said in a late Saturday report.


Flooding in the southern half of the country destroyed thousands of buildings, left more than 300,000 homeless, and wiped out more than 11 percent of the land for grains and maize in a country that already battles chronic food shortages, it has said.


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KCNA said on Saturday the floods snapped hundreds of electric polls, caused enormous damage to coal mines and destroyed large sections of its few highways.


Apart from a few showcase spots in the capital Pyongyang, much of the North's infrastructure is a shambles, with the communist state still using rail lines and power systems built during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.


A South Korean specialist in North Korean agriculture said the country will by hit hard by crop losses, but it is not likely to soon slip back into famine because of increased grain production over the last decade.


As much as 10 percent of North Korea's 23 million people were killed in a famine in the mid-to-late 1990s, brought about by flooding, drought and years of mismanagement in the farm sector.


The United Nations will launch an appeal early next week for North Korean flood aid of around $15-20 million, a senior U.N. official said on Friday. The World Food Program has already started distributing emergency food rations.


South Korea will send building material and equipment worth 37.4 billion won ($39.73 million) to help rebuild houses and roads. Last week, it started shipping 7.1 billion won worth of food, medicine and other supplies.


The flooding caused the two Koreas to postpone what would be only the second meeting of the leaders of the two countries, from late August to early October.


($1=941.4 won)


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