SEOUL - South Korea’s military warned yesterday that buried land mines may have slid down mountains eroded by heavy rains this week as the death toll from the downpours rose to at least 57.
Massive rainfall since Tuesday has disrupted life in Seoul and surrounding areas, submerging streets filled with idled cars, flooding subway stations, and forcing businesses to shut. The rain stopped or decreased yesterday, but more was forecast through this morning.
At least 57 people have died due to rain-induced landslides, flooding, and accidents related to the precipitation, officials said. At least 12 people were confirmed missing.
The Korea Meteorological Administration said Wednesday’s 12 inches of rainfall in Seoul was the biggest one-day amount in the capital since 1998 and the third highest ever.
At a mountain in Seoul where a deadly slide hit Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said mines placed there in the 1960s could have shifted. Soldiers with metal detectors were waiting to search for the mines, said Yoon Yong-sam, a spokesman for the air force, which had planted them around an air defense base.
A defense ministry official said that 10 mines could have been pushed down Wumyeon Mountain in Seoul. The official declined to be named because of policy. Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok played down the immediate risk because a concrete wall on the hillside could be stopping the mines.
South Korea’s military dug up many land mines on the mountain between 1999 and 2006, but about 10 mines couldn’t be accounted for, officials said. Fences around the base have warnings about unaccounted-for land mines, which are relics from past decades when fears of a North Korean land invasion were higher and the area was sparsely populated.
There were fears of land mines in northern provinces also hit by flooding and slides, prompting the Joint Chiefs of Staff to order mine-search operations where needed.