By Kim Tong-Hyung
Buses began moving tens of thousands of Scouts to inland venues Tuesday 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 heat wave that caused some attendees to be hospitalized.
It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that officials announced the decision to abandon the coastal campsite in the southwestern 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 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 swath of reclaimed land.
More than 1,000 vehicles are being used to evacuate 37,000 Scouts from 156 countries, mostly teenagers. Most will be accommodated in Seoul and the surrounding area, where officials have secured university dormitories, government and corporate training centers, and hotels.
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 Tuesday morning, the storm was centered 350 kilometers (217 miles) south of Kagoshima, a city on the southwestern tip of Japan’s main southern island of Kyushu. Khanun produced winds of 108 kph (67 mph) with gusts to 144 kph (89 mph) and was slowly moving north, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.
South Korea’s weather agency, which measured the storm at typhoon strength of 126 kph (78 mph), expected it to gain strength slightly before making landfall Thursday morning. It’s 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. It has remained largely barren site as local officials continue to pursue plans for highways, ports and an international airport. Once seen as 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 hasn’t started yet.
Before Tuesday’s pullout, government officials channeled 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 or unkempt.
Organizers 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 on 9 a.m., said Lee Sang-min, South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety. The evacuation is expected to take six hours or more.
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, Lee said.
“Local governments are checking the sanitation of the accommodation venues and restrooms and are preparing medical measures to ensure that the participants would be safe and comfortable after they arrive,” Lee said. “Police will patrol the accommodations, while officials from the Korea Food and Drug Administration will carefully check the quality, quantity and safety of meals.”
The announcement about the evacuations 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.
“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, secretary general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, who credited South Korea’s government of “mobilizing all available resources” into the relocation effort.
“It’s disappointing that these adverse weather conditions have forced us to shift our plans,” he said.