Typhoon Lingling ravages North Korea’s breadbasket

Typhoon Lingling
North Korean farmers in South Hwanghae Province cleaning up a damaged farm field after Typhoon Lingling. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday that Typhoon Lingling caused five deaths and submerged farmland throughout the country. The news agency also said that three people had been injured and are currently being hospitalized, and that a total of around 458 square kilometers of farmland had either been submerged or had its crops destroyed. “Around 210 apartments with approximately 460 families along with 15 government buildings have either been partially or completely destroyed, or submerged underwater,” the news agency added. 

It is rare for North Korea to report on the devastation wreaked by natural disasters and recovery efforts so quickly after an event has occurred, suggesting that the level of devastation is more significant than officially reported. North Korea also has a history of providing questionable data after major natural disasters. 

Daily NK conducted a telephone interview with a North Korean source based in South Hwanghae Province soon after Typhoon Lingling hit the area on Sunday, August 8. The full text of the interview is below. 

Q. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held an emergency meeting with his staff and told them to prepare each county “thoroughly” for the storm. What measures were in place when the storm hit? 

“The party understood the extent of the damage from the storm quickly and ordered recovery efforts to begin immediately. Even people here were surprised at how fast the reaction was. That being said, the party just handed down the order but didn’t send any aid or tools to help with reconstruction such as gasoline, cement, wood or steel. They just told us to rebuild, but we were left wondering how we could do that without any support.” 

Q. Then who is leading the reconstruction efforts on the ground? 

“Locals are taking matters into their own hands. Everyone has a pickax and is going around filling in holes in the roads created by the torrential rain, while also clearing fallen trees. That’s all people can handle right now; there’s no way to start full-fledged recovery efforts. In places where landslides have taken a large toll, there’s concern about additional landslides happening so rescue crews can’t even get to people stuck in those areas.” 

Q. Which areas have been struck by landslides? 

“Songhwan and Kwail counties. The homes at the base of the mountains that were hit by the slides have been completely destroyed and the occupants are just living outside now. The areas grow a lot of fruit, but the crops have all been destroyed. People in those areas are wondering how they’ll survive.” 

Q. The devastation wrought by the storm in North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are considered the “breadbaskets” of North Korea, is leading to concerns that this year’s fall harvest will be adversely affected. How are farmers in the provinces viewing things? 

“The damage to crops in the provinces is very severe. Most farms in South Hwanghae Province have been submerged in salt water. All of the corn stalks have collapsed. The roofs on threshing floors in collective farms have all been blown away. Everything needs to be rebuilt before the harvest season, but many people are saying they don’t even know where to start. All the damage will have a significant impact on this year’s harvest.” 

Q. What other damage has occurred in the provinces?

“Lots of farms have been severely damaged, including mass deaths of cows, goats and rabbits. A lot of fish farms have also been destroyed off the coasts of Kangryong, Haeju and Paechon. Hundreds of boats have been damaged in the ports of Kangyrong, Monggumpo and Haeju.”

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