North Korea Works to Prevent Flood Damages Amid COVID Crisis

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Koreans were working intensively to protect crops, factory equipment and other assets from potential damage from days of heavy rainfall, state media said Tuesday, as outside observers worry any flooding could aggravate the country's economic hardships amid its COVID-19 outbreak.

Summer floods in North Korea, one of the poorest countries in Asia, often cause serious damage to its agricultural and other sectors because of its troubled drainage and deforestation.

Typhoons and torrential rains in 2020 were among the difficulties leader Kim Jong Un said had created "multiple crises" at home, along with strict pandemic-related restrictions and U.N. sanctions over his nuclear weapons program.

North Korea's weather authorities predicted this year's rainy season would start in late June and issued alerts for torrential downpours in most of its regions from Monday through Wednesday.

The official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that authorities in the North's central and southwestern regions "have concentrated all forces and means on the work to cope with possible flood and typhoon damage."

Officials and workers were working to protect crops, equipment at metal and chemical industrial establishments, power plant facilities and fishing boats from heavy rains, KCNA reported. It said the country's anti-disaster agency was reviewing the readiness of emergency workers and medical staff.

KCNA said North Korean officials are urging residents and laborers to abide by pandemic-related restrictions during the country's monsoon season. It said medical workers were ready to deal with any potential major health issues and officials were working to ensure epidemic control measures at shelters for people evacuated from flood-damaged areas.

South Korea's weather agency said most of North Korea has been receiving heavy rains since Sunday.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said later Tuesday it asked North Korea to inform the South in advance if it plans to release dammed water along the rivals' border. Some of the North's previous sudden, unnotified discharge of dam water caused deaths in frontline South Korean towns.

The South Korean request was conveyed through a cross-border military hotline communication channel. Earlier Tuesday, South Korea said North Korea was unresponsive to its calls on another official communication channel but liaison officials from the two countries eventually had their regular call later in the day.

Concerns about the heavy rains come after North Korea admitted last month to a domestic coronavirus outbreak. It has said about 4.7 million out of the country's 26 million people became ill and only 73 died, but experts question whether North Korea's propaganda has given a true picture of the outbreak.