North Korea’s official state media reported Sunday that heavy rains from Typhoon Lionrock caused severe flooding in the northeast region of the country, killing at least 133 people and leaving hundreds more missing. Reportedly, some 140,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and the effects of the disaster may continue to spread. For the first time in ages, the secretive nation has issued a plea for help from those outside its carefully protected borders.
In a broadcast on Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the country’s “heaviest downpour” since 1945 after Typhoon Lionrock triggered flooding in Musan and Yonsa counties and Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong province. The massive storm surge reportedly left “tens of thousands” of buildings destroyed and people homeless and “suffering from great hardship,” according to KCNA. The gravity of the disaster has been confirmed in a report by the United Nations.
Bradley Williams, a international relations professor at City University in Hong Kong, told CNN the areas hit hardest by the flooding are known to be impoverished, and are the locale of prison camps and forces hostile to the regime there. KCNA’s report claimed Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) issued a public appeal to party members and service personnel of the Korean People’s Army to aid in the recovery efforts.
Williams suspects that the call for flood relief assistance may not actually benefit those suffering the storm’s effects, but will instead be channeled into efforts to protect the regime and prevent social uprising. Red Cross rescue teams are responding to North Korea’s plea, but it remains to be seen whether the international community will respond.