South Korea evacuates thousands from World Scout Jamboree as typhoon nears

More than 1,000 vehicles are moving the estimated 37,000 scouts ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Khanun.

Scouts prepare to leave the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in Buan, North Jeolla province on August 8, 2023. - Organisers of the World Scout Jamboree asked host South Korea on August 7 to "urgently" evacuate tens of thousands of children from their campsite ahead of a typhoon, just days after a heatwave caused mass scout illnesses. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
Scouts prepare to leave the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in Buan, North Jeolla province, South Korea, on August 8, 2023 [Anthony Wallace/ AFP]

Buses have started to move thousands of scouts attending the World Scout Jamboree from their campsite on South Korea’s coast to inland locations ahead of a tropical storm which is forecast to bring intense rains and strong winds to the peninsula within days.

More than 1,000 vehicles began to move the estimated 36,000 scouts – mostly teenagers – and adult volunteers on Tuesday from the scouting jamboree – known as the world’s largest youth camp – that opened last week in Buan, a county on South Korea’s southwestern coast, and is being attended by participants from 156 countries.

(Al Jazeera)

At the sprawling campsite on Tuesday, tens of thousands of scouts were packing up their tents and belongings and queueing up to get onto the buses bound for alternative accommodation in Seoul and surrounding areas.

Members of Korea’s Special Forces were on hand to help with the evacuation, according to reporters at the site.

The evacuation announcement on Tuesday came after the World Organization of the Scout Movement said it called on South Korea to quickly move the scouts from the storm’s path and provide necessary resources for participants until they return to their home countries.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency published photos of red coaches ferrying the scouts to safety ahead of what was described as the arrival of “a powerful typhoon”.

Most of the scouts will be accommodated in Seoul and the capital’s metropolitan area, where officials have secured university dormitories, government and corporate training centres, and hotels. Scouting is a worldwide youth movement that emphasises practical outdoor activities such as camping and hiking.

The jamboree started last Wednesday at the campsite, which is located on land reclaimed from the sea, and hundreds of participants already were treated for heat-related ailments during one of South Korea’s hottest summers in years.

Concerns had been raised beforehand about having such large numbers of young people in a vast, treeless area lacking protection from the summer heat. Organisers said the campsite will not be used for any event after the Scouts leave.

The hot temperatures had already forced thousands of scouts from the United Kingdom and the United States to leave the site. The UK scouts – about 4,500 – were transferred to hotels in Seoul while the US scouts, numbering about 1,000, were moved to Camp Humphreys, a major US military base 70km (45 miles) south of Seoul.

“This is the first time in more than 100 years of World Scout Jamborees that we have had to face such compounded challenges,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the secretary general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

“It’s disappointing that these adverse weather conditions have forced us to shift our plans,” Alhendawi said.

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

Early on Tuesday morning, the storm was centred 350km (217 miles) south of Kagoshima, a city on the southwestern tip of Japan’s main southern island of Kyushu.

Khanun had winds of 108km/h (67 mph) with gusts up to 144km/h (89 mph) and was moving slowly north, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

South Korea’s weather agency, which measured the storm at typhoon strength of 126km/h (78 mph), expected it to gain strength slightly before making landfall on the Korean Peninsula on Thursday morning.

Khanun is forecast 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies