SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Leader Kim Jong Un visited parts of southern North Korea where days of torrential rains have flooded hundreds of houses and vast areas of agricultural land, state media reported Friday.
It’s rare for Kim to visit a flood-stricken site. The last time state media reported such a visit was in September 2015, when he inspected recovery work at a flood-hit northeast city, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
Kim’s latest visit could be seen an effort to bolster an image of a leader caring about public livelihoods at a time when the North’s economic woes are believed to have worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic. It forced North Korea to close its border with China, its biggest trading partner, in January. Extensive flooding would only add to the North’s economic troubles.
The Korean Central News Agency said Friday Kim inspected a town in North Hwanghae province where a water levee gave way following a rainstorm.
The agency said the levee break left more than 730 single-floored houses and 600-odd hectares (1,480 acres) of rice field inundated and 179 housing blocks destroyed in Unpha County. KCNA said no casualties have been reported.
KCNA said Kim visited the scene and ordered shelters to be arranged for displaced people and residents to be supplied with food grain from his own reserves.
Kim also said officials will be dispatched to direct works to build 800 model houses in the town and that the army will be mobilized to rebuild roads and other infrastructure there with local residents.
North Korea often suffers heavy damage from summer rains due to poor drainage, deforestation and dilapidated infrastructure. North Hwanghae province is a main agricultural region in North Korea.
Friday’s KCNA dispatch didn’t mention possible flood-related damage in other parts of North Korea. It also didn’t say when Kim visited the province.
In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Cho Hyesil told reporters that South Korea maintains its policy to push for humanitarian cooperation with North Korea on issues that are not political such as natural disasters. She said South Korea is monitoring flood damage in North Korea but didn’t say whether South Korea would offer aid.
Relations between the Koreas remain strained amid a protracted deadlock in U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits.
South Korea has also received torrential rains in recent days. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said in a report Friday that the Aug. 1-6 rainfall left 17 people dead and 10 others missing in landslides, floods and other incidents.
In neighboring China, authorities have issued a flood warning through Saturday for a number of northern provinces, with heavy rain expected over the weekend. The Ministry of Emergency Management also ordered increased monitoring over three of China’s biggest river systems — the Yangtze, Huai and Yellow.
Annual flooding across China has been especially destructive this summer, with around 43 million people impacted, according to official figures from last month.
At least 130 people have been killed or gone missing in the floods, with 3 million moved to shelters and some 270,000 homes destroyed. Around 5.6 million hectares (14 million acres) of crops have been inundated, and direct losses are estimated at 117 billion yuan ($16.7 billion), according to the ministry.