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By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters

PYONGYANG, Dec 2, Reuter – A typhoon devastated the northeast of North Korea in late August, washing away whole villages and causing huge financial losses, European business sources said.

The sources said Typhoon Vera, which crossed the Korean peninsula between August 28 and 30, was a major disaster for North Korea, but was not reported by the strictly controlled media.

“Not a word was reported in the North Korean press,” one source said. “The people of Pyongyang have no idea that the northeast of their country has been totally devastated with whole villages washed away.”

The sources said the value of insured damage in the disaster totalled about 35 million dollars. North Korea is the only communist country to re-insure domestic risks with foreign insurance companies.

The sources said few lives were lost in the disaster because authorities evacuated people from threatened areas in advance.

But they said the typhoon damage was a huge financial burden for the country which is already suffering from industrial inefficiency, a large foreign debt and low commodity prices.

They said they understood the typhoon was eating up 80 per cent of this year’s insurance premium revenue of the state monopoly company, Korea Insurance.

Lack of publicity on the typhoon damage is typical of how closed North Korea remains and the lengths to which the Pyongyang leadership goes to stop information filtering in or out of the country.

Few western journalists are allowed to visit North Korea, and a tourist group including journalists was last week forbidden from visiting the truce village of Panmunjom on the dividing line between North and South Korea, usually a regular stop for all tours.

A Japanese businessman who spoke to the journalists in a Pyongyang hotel lobby was called away by a North Korean official and returned a few moments later to say he could not continue the chat.

“I can’t talk. You understand why,” he said apologetically. REUTER

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