Authorities in the North Korean city of Sinuiju ordered people living in flimsy houses to evacuate to sturdier apartment buildings to prepare for Typhoon Bavi, causing friction between the evacuees and tenants, sources across the Yalu river border in China told RFA Thursday.
Bavi, known locally as typhoon number 8, made landfall in North Korea with winds of 83 miles per hour at the western coast of North Pyongan Province at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Pyongyang time, according to the China Meteorological Administration. North Korean media reported vast flooding, uprooted trees and downed telephone poles.
Two days earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered extensive preparations to minimize damage and injuries ahead of the typhoon at an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau.
A resident of Dandong, China, who has family across the Yalu river border in Sinuiju, told RFA’s Korean Service Thursday that members of his family had been mobilized as part of the city’s typhoon readiness plan.
“I talked to my family in Sinuiju on the phone this morning, and they were very busy because the city government was pushing them since yesterday until early this morning,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“They couldn’t sleep at all last night. They stayed up all night to follow the instructions of the authorities,” the source said.
Part of the preparations involved taping windows to prevent shards of broken glass from going airborne, according to the source.
“The city government ordered residents to attach tape at least 5 centimeters (2 inches) wide in an X-shape pattern to all glass windows in their house. They even sent an inspection team and checked the windows one by one,” the source said.
“Residents living in houses were ordered to evacuate to the corridors of nearby apartment buildings at least three-stories tall by 5 a.m. today, while residents of apartments were ordered not to go out,” the source added.
In addition, the entire city went on lockdown ahead of Bavi.
“All transportation, including city buses and taxis, will not be running today. This is because all the vehicles must be moved to higher and safer places where there is [less potential for] damage from flood and wind,” said the source.
“All the employees of businesses couldn’t get off work yesterday and had to report for special duty afterwards to [prepare for] the typhoon. The emergency situation is not likely to end until late afternoon today when the typhoon completely moves away,” the source said.
It is common in other parts of the world for residents to evacuate to spacious public buildings like gymnasiums, schools or domed stadiums during severe weather, but Sinuiju’s house-dwellers had to endure miserable conditions in apartment building hallways, a second source told RFA.
“There is serious friction with the apartment residents over several issues including the use of toilets,” said the second source, a trader from Dandong who often hears news from his North Korean business partner.
“This is the first time in my whole life of 50 years that they’ve evacuated people to apartment buildings because of a typhoon. I wonder where rural residents will evacuate to when there are no apartments near their homes.” the second source said.
Sources told RFA that Dandong on Thursday also stopped running all city buses and closed all government offices. The Chinese city however did not mobilize the public, instead putting only members of the public security department in charge of disaster control and management on special emergency duty.
Sometime after landfall, Typhoon Bavi was downgraded and reclassified as a tropical storm. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in Honolulu issued its final warning regarding Bavi at 6 p.m. Pyongyang Time, saying it would continue to rapidly weaken as it moved northeastward from its then position over China’s Jilin province.
At its peak on Wednesday, Bavi had been a category-3 typhoon. It caused light structural damage as it passed by South Korea in waters off the peninsula’s west coast before hitting North Korea early Thursday.
Pyongyang lightly scathed
A diplomat living in Pyongyang told RFA that the North Korean capital had suffered only minor damage from Bavi.
“It was ok. There was some strong wind, some fallen trees, some roofs vanished, but nothing dramatic, both in our compound and the rest of the town as well,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
“The Koreans are working very quickly to fix it. Everything. Everywhere. For example, one wall has fallen in this compound and it has been fixed already. It’s been rebuilt. The whole wall,” the diplomat added.
“They work very quickly. They were reporting for duty quickly and fixing things quickly. It was raining very early this morning, like at three, four, or five o’clock. Then there was no rain, but strong winds. By twelve noon, there was no rain and no wind at all.”
Reported by Joonho Kim and Hee Jung Yang for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.