Like a scene from 'Parasite': Floods lay bare social disparity in South Korea

By Hyonhee Shin and Hyeyeon Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - Ha In-sik used a plastic bowl to scoop water from his ground-floor apartment in the low-income residential neighborhood of Sillim in southwest Seoul on Wednesday, where flooding from torrential rains forced his family to sleep at a park nearby.
The 50-year-old man, along with his wife and daughter, had collected household appliances, furniture, books and even cutlery and placed them outside to see what could be salvaged.
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The scene bore uneasy resemblances to the sewage-flooded basement apartment portrayed in the 2020 Academy Award-winning South Korean film Parasite, which was a story about growing social inequality in Asia's fourth-largest economy.
The floods have caused inconvenience and financial loss in the more affluent parts of the capital, such as the glitzy Gangnam district just a few kilometers away.
But in places like Sillim, the floods have wiped out what little hope desperate people like Ha had clung to just to keep going.
"I have no money, nothing. But I came here to live in this basement as it was the only way to live with my daughter," Ha told Reuters.
"But I'm hopeless now. Everything is gone, there is no help and I don't even have a spoon to eat with."
Ha was not alone in his misery. Other residents of Sillim used large bowls to scoop up water or comb through the rubble to see what was usable.
On Monday, three family members living in the neighborhood, including a woman with intellectual disabilities, drowned in their basement apartment. A day later, President Yoon Suk-yeol visited Sillim.
On Wednesday, Yoon apologized for the tragedy and called for measures to improve home security to protect the elderly, poor or disabled, and families like Ha's, whose homes were most vulnerable to flooding.
At least 10 people have died as a result of the torrential rain that swept across the northern part of the country since Monday, cutting power, causing landslides and flooding roads and subways.
This week's deluge brought Seoul its heaviest rains in 115 years, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.
As of Wednesday, six people were still missing, 570 had lost their homes at least temporarily, while 1,400 had been evacuated, mostly in Seoul, the Central Headquarters for Disaster and Security Response said.
As the rain clouds moved south on Wednesday, salvage operations were in full swing, at least in the more affluent counties.
While large parts of Sillim remained flooded and residents likened the conditions to a "mud bath", in Gangnam most roads had been cleared and traffic was back to normal.
Ha said it would be about 10 days before he could return to his home. He said the only help the government had offered was temporary placement in a grammar school, which he declined.
An official at Gwanak District Office, which is responsible for Sillim, said recovery efforts there may be slower due to the concentration of tiny apartments and houses lining the narrow streets, in contrast to Gangnam, which has wide boulevards and office buildings.
The official said the number of soldiers involved in the salvage will be increased from 210 to 500 on Thursday.
"We are making every effort to help residents and are bringing everyone from our office, troops and volunteers," the official said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Hyeyeon Kim and Daewoung Kim; Additional reporting by Minwoo Park; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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