The heaviest snow so far this winter hit most parts of South Korea on Monday, disrupting road traffic and causing flight cancellations. At least three people were killed as cars crashed on icy roads, while nearly 40 were injured. Dozens of flights to and from the provinces of Jeju, Gangwon, Jeolla and Gyeongsang have either been canceled or delayed.
Around 20 vehicles piled up inside a tunnel on a highway connecting Suncheon and Wanju in North Jeolla Province at 12:23 p.m., leaving three people dead and 38 others injured, according to police and fire authorities.
A chemical truck carrying sodium hydroxide was one of the vehicles involved in the accident. Police said the truck caught fire and caused a toxic gas leak in the tunnel, which made rescue efforts difficult.
In a separate incident in another tunnel on the same highway, five vehicles crashed but no deaths were reported.
In North Jeolla Province alone, which received up to 10 centimeters of snow from Sunday through Monday, a total of 195 car accidents were reported from 5 a.m. Sunday to 4 p.m. Monday, according to the Jeonbuk Provincial Police Agency.
Due to heavy snow, access to the West Sea was restricted along four routes in the province. National parks in the area, such as Jirisan and Deokyusan, were cordoned off so hikers could not enter.
With strong wind and wind shear warnings in place for Jeju International Airport, 19 flights to and from the southern island had been canceled and 30 delayed as of 3 p.m.
The mountainous road linking the cities of Jeju and Seogwipo was blocked. Access to other roads was limited to vehicles equipped with snow chains. At sea, the movements of 10 passenger ships on seven routes connecting Jeju with other areas were restricted.
With subzero temperatures forecast for Tuesday morning, the state weather agency warned motorists to drive with greater caution due to icy road conditions.
“The roads in the mountains and (somewhat) mountainous areas will be frozen today and tomorrow, so drivers should have winter safety and emergency equipment in advance,” a KMA official said.
The snow is expected to abate late Monday in central regions, including Seoul, which saw the largest single-day snowfall this season between Sunday and Monday, 4.1 centimeters.
But the country’s west coast, in South Chungcheong Province and the Jeolla provinces, is expected to receive 5 to 10 centimeters of snow by Tuesday morning, while mountainous areas of Jejudo, Dokdo and Ulleungdo are forecast to see 10 to 30 centimeters.
Snowfall hit record levels in many areas, as this winter season had seen little snow until now. Hallasan on Jeju Island received 73 centimeters of snow from Sunday till 4 p.m. Monday.
From the beginning of December to Feb. 10, Seoul had recorded 1.1 centimeters of snow, the lowest level on record since weather authorities began to compile data in 1937, due to relatively warm weather.
On Tuesday, temperatures in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, are forecast to drop to minus 14 C. In Seoul and Busan, the temperatures are to fall minus 8 C and minus 4 C, respectively. The cold snap is expected to abate from Wednesday.