100 May Be Dead in Floods in North Korea

Floods and landslides in North Korea have left more than 100 people dead or missing, an aid group operating in the communist nation said Wednesday, as the North's official media acknowledged heavy rains had caused "tremendous losses."

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the harsh weather in North Korea this month caused flash floods that damaged 11,524 houses, leaving more than 9,000 families homeless.

More than 100 people were dead or missing, the group said, without giving further details. The damage has cut off telephone connections, making collecting reliable information difficult to obtain, it said.

"A lot of people have been displaced. They are trying to find out who is actually missing," Jaap Timmer, head of the International Red Cross in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, told The Associated Press by telephone.

South Korea also has suffered from the effects of heavy rain on the peninsula, with at least 25 deaths and 24 people missing as of Wednesday, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.

Mudslides and flooding in Japan killed at least 10 people and left 13 missing in central and western prefectures, the Kyodo News agency reported. Disaster response officials said they were still collecting information and could not confirm the report.

Up to 10 inches of rain was forecast into Thursday southern and western Japan.

North Korea's official media gave details on damage caused by the weather, but didn't mention any deaths.

"Heavy rains have hit some areas, causing tremendous losses in various sectors of the national economy," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Railway bridges have been destroyed, forcing suspension of operations, and roads and communications have been cut off, according to KCNA.

Relief operations in affected areas were under way, KCNA reported.

The International Red Cross said the weather could also affect food supplies in North Korea, which suffered famines in the 1990s, when natural disasters and outdated farming technology are believed to have killed as many as 2 million people.

"Extensive areas of arable fields have been inundated, wiping out much of the anticipated harvest," it said.

North Koreans' efforts to grow food on any possible arable land has caused deforestation in mountainous areas of the country's South Pyongan, North Hwanghe and Kangwon provinces, with the strong rains triggering landslides, Timmer said.

"Erosion is most likely the main cause of this large disaster," he said.

The Red Cross said it was providing blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting, water containers and purification tablets to families whose homes were destroyed.

Timmer said the Red Cross was considering launching an international emergency appeal, and representatives were negotiating with the government to get access to affected areas to survey what was needed. He said he hoped to send workers to the area by Thursday or Friday.