Nine bodies recovered from flooded underpass in South Korea; 15 vehicles trapped inside tunnel

The flood water rushed into the tunnel after the embankment of a nearby river broke

South Korea Weather Rescuers conduct a search operation along a road submerged by floodwaters leading to an underground tunnel in Cheongju, South Korea | AP

Rescue workers fished out nine bodies from a flooded underpass in the South Korean city of Cheongiu where vehicles, including a bus, are still trapped after flood water gushed into the tunnel. 

Several of the bodies were recovered from inside a bus stuck inside the tunnel. Though the exact number of people trapped inside varies, South Korean authorities estimate at least 15 vehicles are submerged in the underpass which flooded after the embankment of a nearby river broke in the downpour. 

Nine survivors were rescued on Saturday just after the incident. They managed to save themselves by clinging to the sides of the guard rails around the tunnel.

The tunnel is 685-metre long and nearly 400 rescue workers, including divers, were searching the underpass, Al Jazeera quoted Seo Jeong-il, chief of the city’s fire department. Footages from the site show rescue workers pumping muddy water out of the tunnel. Divers are using rubber boats to move in and out of the area.

The incident reportedly happened on Saturday morning after the embankment collapsed and water rushed toward the underpass. The tunnel was some 600 meters away from the Miho River, a tributary of the Geum River, South Korea's third-largest waterway, reported The Korea Herald.

The report added that the drivers were unaware that a flood warning for the area and no signs or officials were in place to stop traffic entering the underpass tunnel. The floodwater gushed into the tunnel too quickly for people to escape and the tunnel was filled with water in as little as two or three minutes.

"There were many cars inside the tunnel when the water began coming in and it rose very rapidly," one of the nine survivors told Yonhap on Saturday. "I don’t understand why the tunnel wasn’t closed earlier." 

The tragic incident comes as South Korea is being battered by heavy rains since July 9. According to the authorities, 37 people had been confirmed dead following the torrential rain. Most fatalities came from the southeastern region of the country where over 17 people died mainly due to landslides and housing collapses.

The rainfall had forced more than 6,100 people to evacuate and left 27,260 households without electricity. Several homes were destroyed in the past several days. The weather agency said some parts of the country will continue to be under the influence of heavy rain.

The downpours have disrupted travel across the country, forcing the cancellation of some 20 flights and the suspension of its regular train service and some bullet trains, the ministry said.

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