08 August 2023

Tens of thousands of Scouts evacuated as typhoon approaches South Korea

08 August 2023

Buses have begun moving tens of thousands of Scouts to inland venues ahead of a tropical storm, bringing an effective end to a World Scout Jamboree that had already struggled with heat, hygiene and land use controversies.

Known for its insatiable desire to host international events, the South Korean government scrambled to keep the Jamboree going as thousands of British and American Scouts departed over the weekend because of an extreme heatwave that caused some Scouts to be treated in hospital.

The father of a British scout who was evacuated said his daughter complained about “disgusting” conditions.

The 48-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency: “The toilets deteriorated over the time she was there to the point they were unusable and pretty disgusting.”

But it was not until Monday afternoon that officials announced the decision to abandon the coastal campsite in the south-western town of Buan after forecasters raised alarms that Tropical Storm Khanun was heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean officials say the Jamboree will continue in the form of cultural events and activities, including a K-Pop concert in Seoul on Friday.

Critics have argued the decision to host the Jamboree at a site known as Saemangeum was part of an effort to justify further investment in a controversial swathe of reclaimed land.

More than 1,000 vehicles are being used to evacuate 37,000 Scouts from 156 countries, most of whom are teenagers. Most will be accommodated in Seoul and the surrounding area, where officials have secured university dormitories, government and corporate training centres and hotels.

Tropical Storm Khanun has meandered around Japan’s south-western islands for more than a week, dumping heavy rain, knocking out power and damaging homes.

South Korea’s weather agency, which measured the storm at typhoon strength of 78mph, expected it to gain strength slightly before making landfall on Thursday morning. It is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rains to South Korea from Wednesday to Friday.

South Korea’s safety ministry instructed local officials to prepare to shut down coastal areas, hiking trails, river parks, underpass tunnels and other places vulnerable to flooding.

The Jamboree began last Wednesday at the campsite in Saemangeum, a huge area reclaimed from sea by a 19-year project that was completed in 2010.

Once seen as a major development project that would revamp a region that lacks modern industries, Saemanguem is now increasingly viewed as an ecological disaster that wiped out coastal wetlands and hurt fisheries production.

Concerns had been raised beforehand about having such large numbers of young people in a vast, treeless area lacking protection from heat. Hundreds of participants were treated for heat-related ailments after the Jamboree began, as South Korea grappled with one of its hottest summers in years.

Critics have argued the push to host the Jamboree at Saemangeum was part of efforts to justify further investment in the site, where local officials continue to pursue plans for new highways, ports and an international airport. The airport was initially planned to be built for the Jamboree, but construction has not started yet.

Before Tuesday’s pullout, government officials channelled national resources to keep the event going, adding medical staff, air-conditioned buses, military shade structures, and hundreds of workers to maintain bathrooms and showers, which some Scouts complained were filthy.

Organisers said the campsite will not be used for any other events after the Scouts leave.

More than 270 police cars and four helicopters were deployed to escort the buses that began departing the site at 9am local time.

More than 13,500 scouts will be accommodated at 64 different venues in Gyeonggi province, South Korea’s largest province surrounding Seoul.

About 3,100 scouts will stay in Seoul and another 3,200 will be sent to nearby Incheon. Nearly 9,000 scouts will be sent to 25 different venues in the North and South Chungcheong provinces in the country’s central region.

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