Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ridiculous Quantities of Rain

The mini-river I crossed on the way to Severance Hospital.

So, it's been over a month since I last posted... I guess I got bitten by the lazy bug again. Things have been happening, some more interesting than the rest, so I'll be catching up on the highlights in some future posts. For today, though, just a (relatively) brief update now that there's some respite from the staggering, debilitating rains that have poured down on Seoul and neighboring regions since Tuesday. 

For those who haven't seen the news, the Seoul area received 536mm of rain over a three-day period. That's just over 21 inches of rain (12 of which fell on Wednesday alone) - something I've certainly never come close to experiencing before. I mean, seriously, that's more than half the average annual rainfall of my hometown, Washington DC. It's definitely out of the ordinary for Seoul, too, being the highest rainfall for a single-day and three-day period in July since records started in 1907.

Thanks to the rain, not only were major roads and subway stations flooded and closed, but there have also been a number of serious landslides. The Seoul region (as with the rest of the country) is mountainous, which was the first factor leading to the landslides. The second factor was that many mountains have been developed as parks and such, or have been altered in order to construct tunnels under them, thus undermining natural erosion control. The death toll from the floods and landslides is at least 59 (and counting), not to mention the 11,000+ people who have been rendered homeless.

I haven't been affected as seriously, but the rainfall made for some memorable experiences nonetheless. On my way to a doctor's appointment on Wednesday morning, it was raining so hard (probably the hardest I've ever seen) that the rain literally came through my umbrella. Within 5 minutes of walking, I got completely soaked almost up to my waist, to the point where I might just as well have been wading through a lake or swimming pool. I managed to take shelter in the Sinchon train station next to the Ewha campus for a few minutes, hoping the rain would lighten up - utterly futile, in retrospect. Then, when I came out of the station to cross the major road between me and the hospital... well, there was a slight problem. Literally a river of mud water was gushing down the road, completely blocking my path to the pedestrian bridge. I tried to skirt around it by walking back through the Ewha campus to hit the main road higher up the hill, but the river went as far as I could see. For most of the way back towards the pedestrian bridge, I was able to stay at the very edge of the sidewalk to avoid most of the water, but in the end I had no choice but to wade through the river for a 15-20 foot stretch.

View of the flooded Han River from my apartment
Having seen the TV and newspaper reports on the damage done in other parts of Seoul and Gyeonggi-do, I feel very lucky that that was about the worst of my encounters with the rain. It certainly was a sight, though, to come home to my apartment, look down on the Han River, and realize that the water had risen probably a good 20 feet to be a nearly the same level of the highway and train station along the banks. Normally, there's a biking/walking path right next to the river, but the water was so high that only the very tops of the trees along that path were visible.