By Pak Ryon Mi in Pyongyang
It was late in the evening of 26 July, when 32-year-old Han Sun Il, a DPRK Red Cross volunteer, heard children crying, while helping people to escape from the flood that hit Chongdan county, in South Hwanghae province.
By the dim light of his torch, he could just see two children hanging out of the window of a house engulfed by the flood, desperately shouting for help.
The children had been trapped in the flood, as they couldn’t hear the evacuation siren. They had fallen asleep waiting for their parents, who couldn’t come back from work as the bridge and the road was broken and completely underwater.
The torrent of water was so intense that the house could be washed away at any moment. Mr. Han jumped into the swirling water to rescue the children.
He just managed to get the three-year-old girl from the half-destroyed house. When he entered the water again to fetch the 11-year-old boy, the water was running deeper and faster.
Stumbling, falling and being carried away by the churning stream, he reached the house across the stormy water. When he started to return, the water level rose almost up his chest and he struggled for another 30 minutes to get back to the shore.
When he finally pushed the boy ashore, he was so exhausted that he was carried away by the stream, never to resurface.
Ms. Ji Yon Ok, mother of the children says: “Mr. Han was an ordinary farmer, with a wife and his own little girl of two-years-old. I don’t feel as though he has departed from us. He will be forever in the heart of my family and neighbors. From now on, his daughter is my daughter. I and my husband will become Red Cross volunteers to help other people.”
Following the floods, DPRK Red Cross, with support from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has provided immediate relief affected communities, carrying out distribution of tarpaulins, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, and water purification tablets to nearly 30,000 people.
In the past few weeks, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been battered by storms and floods which have left at least 57 people dead, according to government figures, and more than 24,000 people homeless. With more than 83,000 hectares of arable agricultural land affected, the authorities say the disaster has dealt a severe blow to livelihoods in the area considered to be the country’s bread basket.