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Large-scale rescue operation recovers 7 bodies after flooding traps cars in South Korea tunnel

By Jake Kwon and Heather Chen, CNN

(CNN) — Rescue workers pulled seven bodies from vehicles trapped in a flooded underpass in central South Korea, authorities said Sunday, after days of torrential rain caused landslides and flash floods that have killed at least 33 people.

A large-scale search and rescue operation involving 400 workers and divers was launched Saturday after 15 vehicles, including a public bus, became trapped by rising flood waters in the Gungpyeong tunnel, the chief of local fire department Seo Jeong-il said.

The deluge gushed through the tunnel when a levee of the nearby Miho river in North Chungcheong province failed, Seo said in a televised briefing, trapping the vehicles and those inside.

Dashcam footage from one vehicle that made it though the tunnel, shows water rushing into the underpass as cars drive head on into the flood waters.

The rescue operation was ongoing Sunday morning, with 10 people reported missing while authorities worked to identify the bodies, according to South Korean Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Nine people had been rescued with injuries, Seo said.

Rescue teams continued to drain the tunnel of flood water Sunday morning, pumping out 80,000 liters per minute. At 4:33 a.m., the top of the bus became visible, Seo said. But authorities said the chance of finding any more survivors is unlikely.

“We are mobilizing about 30 divers in groups of two in rotation for the search operation,” said Seo. “We are trying our best right now, although it is difficult since the site is covered in mud.”

Five bodies were discovered when divers searched the trapped bus, among the dead is a woman in her 70s, according to Seo.

Dozens of people have died in South Korea in recent days as torrential monsoon rains triggered flooding and landslides across the country.

Across the country, more than 5,500 people have been forced to evacuate their homes and seek temporary shelter, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said Sunday.

In addition, some 8,300 households in four provinces are experiencing power outages, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Public roads, houses and farm fields have been damaged by the severe flooding.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo ordered authorities to evacuate those in landslide-prone regions and to carry out rescue efforts, according to the South Korean news agency.

Scientists have warned the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall is increasing across East Asia as the human-caused climate crisis accelerates the probability of extreme weather events.

The latest round of heavy rains in South Korea come just days after devastating floods wreaked havoc in neighboring Japan, killing at least six people and injuring 19.

And flash floods have torn through southwest China in recent weeks, killing at least 15 people in the city of Chongqing.

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