SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — One of the most powerful typhoons to ever hit South Korea swept along the country’s coast on Saturday, toppling trees, grounding planes and causing at least three deaths before moving on to North Korea.
Typhoon Lingling knocked out power to more than 161,000 homes across South Korea, including on the southern island of Jeju, which was lashed by the storm overnight, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.
After hitting Jeju, the storm remained offshore as it moved up South Korea’s west coast on Saturday morning before making landfall in North Korea in the afternoon.
A 75-year-old woman in the central South Korean town of Boryeong was killed after strong winds blew her off her feet and crashed her into a wall 30 meters (yards) away, the ministry said. A 39-year-old was killed in the western city of Incheon after being crushed by a collapsed wall at a hospital parking lot, while a 61-year-old Chinese national died in the border town of Paju after being hit by a blown-off roof tile.
South Korea’s government said at least 15 people were being treated for injuries, including an elderly couple from Boryeong who were injured after steel scaffolding collapsed on their home.
The safety ministry said the storm was moving north at 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour as of 10 p.m. Saturday while passing over North Korea. It had shrunk to a mid-strength typhoon with winds up to 29 meters (32 yards) per second, the ministry said.
Lingling packed winds of 196 kilometers (122 miles) per hour at around 6:30 a.m. on South Korea’s southern coast, making the typhoon the fifth strongest to hit the country since 1959, according to South Korea’s weather agency.
Residents in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang were seen using umbrellas to shield themselves from wind and rain while struggling to walk through wet streets.
In South Korea, the storm toppled hundreds of trees and streetlamps, blew signboards off buildings and damaged traffic signs across the mainland and Jeju. At least 18 homes were flooded and 35 vessels were capsized or damaged while being evacuated at ports, and more than 100 schools were damaged, the safety ministry said. More than 200 flights were grounded at airports nationwide, while 38 people were forced to evacuate from their flooded homes in Gwangju, a city near Seoul.
Ten cars were damaged in the southern town of Namwon when a roof plate blew off an apartment building and crashed into a parking lot. A similar incident in the eastern city of Wonju left five vehicles destroyed. A large spire was knocked off a church in a commercial district in Seoul.
“The spire collapsed after a sudden gust of wind, hitting a building nearby and a telephone pole and falling over a car. That caused electrical sparks,” Yeom Sang-min, a Seoul resident told, told TV news channel YTN.
Traffic to Incheon International Airport, one of Asia’s largest transport hubs, was disrupted by the closure of its gateway bridge and a power failure at a commuter rail network that links the airport with Seoul. Fire crews in Incheon responded to some 100 calls reporting typhoon-related damage, including destroyed walls, knocked-off signboards and fallen trees.
National parks were closed, as were southern ports on the mainland and major cross-sea bridges.
The storm could possibly inflict more serious damage as it passes through North Korea, an impoverished nation that for decades has struggled to deal with natural disasters. There were no immediate reports of weather-related injuries in North Korea, but state TV reported that an unspecified number of homes and buildings had been damaged and showed footage of flooded streets and toppled trees.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, said leader Kim Jong Un “urgently convened” an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss disaster prevention efforts and scolded government officials who he described as “helpless against the typhoon, unaware of its seriousness and seized with easygoing sentiment.”
Kim called for his military to drive national efforts to minimize damage from the typhoon, which he said would be an “enormous struggle” that would require the entire country to step up, the report said.
North Korea, which suffers from severe food shortages, was paying “primary attention” to protect agricultural crops and prevent damage in dikes, dams and reservoirs, KCNA said. It said officials were also moving residents in areas vulnerable to flooding and deploying “watchmen” to monitor bridges, buildings and houses.