Rains Trigger Memories of Catastrophic ’95 Floods

[imText1]Shenyang, China — Due to heavy rains in the northeastern provinces of China at the end of last month, the water level in the Yulu River has reached its maximum and exceeds danger levels behind some dams along the river’s course. Any additional heavy rains are threatening to trigger massive floods in and around Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province.

One source explained to The Daily NK on August 4th that this is causing fears to spread in Sinuiju since people remember well the situation in 1995, when the entire city was seriously affected by unusually bad flooding during the summer rainy season.

There has already been significant damage in other areas. With the heavy rains that struck the region on the 27th and 28th of last month, the upstream Tumen River and its tributaries flooded, creating approximately 500,000 victims in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.

Currently, the water level behind one dam in the upper Yulu River is dangerously high. Also, the Supung dam, which lies to the east of Sinuiju and directly affects the water level of the Yulu flowing past the city, is at the point of having to discharge.

According to the Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA), South Korea’s meteorological authority, 436mm of rain fell in the vicinity of Supung in July. This is almost double the average for the month. Furthermore, another 30-80mm of rain is expected to fall on or around August 5th, according to Jung Hyun Sook of the Climate Prediction Division of the KMA.

Before the Supung dam opens its floodgates, electricity and gas supplies in downstream areas of China will be cut and residents living near the river will be ordered to evacuate.

The people and authorities in Dandong, which sits across the Yalu from Sinuiju, are worried about the possibility of flooding. They are trying hard to prevent it by building flood defenses along the banks of the river.

One of the municipal government officials in charge of flood prevention in Dandong met with reporters on August 4th, saying, “The water level of the Yulu River is rising rapidly and the Supung dam also exceeds danger levels. Any additional rains will increase the water level of the river by more than 4 meters and the river will flood. We have issued a warning on television and radio and sent a written warning to stores along the riverside.”

Sinuiju has also made an effort to prevent the flood by building up the embankment, but it is not enough to stop flood damage; especially, the topography of the industrial north of Sinuiju is low, which increases the risk of damage. In addition, it has been suggested that the building of flood defenses in Dandong might incite greater damage in Sinuiju.

One resident of Sinuiju commented during a phone interview with The Daily NK, “We experienced massive flood damage in 1995. The People’s Committee is just telling us to maintain the river and repair houses. So, there seem to be no clear preparations.”

The resident said, “There is a lot of farmland in South Sinuiju and Ryucho-ri; floods will cause great damage to it.”

This is of particular concern since one of the triggers of the famine that gripped North Korea in the late 1990s was the 1995 floods.