The Pyongyang-Kaesong highway and towns just north of Kaesong have suffered major flood damage after recent storms and subsequent swelling of the Ryesong River, satellite images from Planet Labs reveal.
An NK News review of the imagery follows a report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Monday, which said that 76 people had died in the area as a result of heavy rains and flooding.
“In both (North and South Hwanghae) provinces there are 76 reported deaths, and 75 people missing. Over 9,000 people are displaced and nearly 1,800 residential buildings destroyed or damaged,” the OCHA statement from September 2 said.
One person who traveled along the highway in recent days also confirmed on Tuesday that the road near the town of Kumchon, which lies on the border of North and South Hwanghae Provinces, sustained damage.
“A hill beside the road has partly collapsed and caused piles of earth and rocks to form on the road,” Simon Cockerell, General Manager for Koryo Tours, told NK News.
“There have been people mobilized to clear the road and it is open but with parts of various lanes closed for safety and repair,” he added.
A review of satellite imagery from before and after the flooding, which appears to have occurred between August 28 and 30, shows the highway partially covered in water just south of the town of Kumchon.
The weather report on the Korea Central TV (KCTV) nightly news of August 29 stated that as much as 678 mm of rain fell on Kumchon between 1 p.m. August 28 and 5 p.m. the next day.
Satellite images show a service road completely flooded on the west side along the Ryesong River leading into the town, as well as the possibility of major damage to homes and roads in the town as many are no longer visible by August 30.
There are also signs of landslides similar to the one near the highway described by Cockerell along the roughly 150-meter hill on the eastern edge of Kumchon.
Imagery also reveals that river swelling appears to have impacted farmland, which could damage valuable crops already under stress due to a recent heat wave experienced in North Korea.
In addition to Kumchon and neighborhoods directly to the east, water from the overflowing river appears to have reached small neighborhoods in nearby Hanpo and Ryonggung to the northwest, and may have even affected a politically-important power station to the northeast.
The Ryesonggang Youth Power Station No. 5 to the north shows signs of possible flooding as well. According to the Rodong Sinmun on August 20, the station was set to be carrying out trial runs and nearing completion.
North Korean state media has, in the past week, covered news of flood damage in India and southern China – but, notably, there has not been any coverage of domestic flood damage following the latest storms.
The nightly KCTV weather report for August 28 did carry a “heavy rain warning” at the top of the segment, and the broadcast the following night reported heavy precipitation in Kumchon over the previous 24 hours, including 359 mm of rain in Kaesong.
But a report from state outlet Uriminzokkiri on Tuesday – days after the apparent flood damage to Kumchon – praised the work of Korean People’s Army units “safely and unwaveringly working for days to build up river banks to guard against flooding of houses and public buildings in dozens of areas.”
State media has boasted of scientific advances in storm warnings and damage prevention in recent months, promoting the work of its Hydro-meteorological Administration (기상수문국), which Kim Jong Un criticized for poor performance in 2014.
The organization has since been moved into a new building along the Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang.
While the forecasts on KCTV from before the most recent deluge did appear to accurately predict heavy rainfall of at least 200 mm in the Hwanghae region, it is unclear the extent to which the population typically receives these warnings.
Featured image: Planet Labs