SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea will evacuate tens of thousands of scouts by bus from a coastal jamboree site as Tropical Storm Khanun looms, officials said Monday.
More than 1,000 vehicles will be used starting Tuesday morning to move 36,000 scouts — mostly teenagers — from the World Scout Jamboree in the southwestern county of Buan, according to Kim Sung-ho, a vice minister at South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety.
Most of the scouts, who come from 158 countries, will be accommodated at venues in the capital city, Seoul, and the nearby metropolitan area, he said. Officials were trying to secure spaces at government training centers and education facilities as well as hotels. Kim said it would take six hours or more to evacuate the scouts from the campsite, which organizers said will no longer be used for any event after they leave.
Officials at Camp Humphreys, a major U.S. military base 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Seoul, did not immediately confirm reports that thousands of scouts from Sweden, Norway and Denmark were to be transferred to its facilities.
The base is already accommodating hundreds of American scouts, who were moved over the weekend because of heat concerns as South Korea grapples with one of its hottest summers in years.
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 all necessary resources and support for participants during their stay and until they return to their home countries.”
South Korea’s government did not immediately specify any venues where the scouts will be staying. David Venn, global director of communications for the World Organization of the Scout Movement, said it was still waiting for government officials to provide detailed plans.
An official from Gyeonggi Province, South Korea’s biggest province surrounding Seoul, said they were working to secure accommodation based on the potential relocation of around 15,000 scouts to the region. The possible venues include the Korea International Exhibition Center, a major convention facility in Goyang, according to the official, who did not want to be named because the plans weren’t finalized.
Khanun has taken an unusual, meandering path around Japan’s southwestern islands for more than a week, dumping heavy rain, knocking out power to thousands of homes and disrupting flights and train services. On Monday afternoon, it had sustained winds of 108 kph (67 mph), with higher gusts, and was forecast to maintain that strength as it brushed Japan’s main island of Kyushu this week, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
South Korea’s weather agency reported that Khanun was expected to make landfall in South Korea on Thursday morning, potentially packing winds as strong as 118 to 154 kph (73 to 95 mph). Large swaths of the country’s south, including Buan, could be affected by the storm as early as Wednesday, the agency said.
The plans to evacuate the scouts were announced hours after President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said he called for “contingency” plans, including relocating them to hotels and other facilities in the greater capital area.
The Japanese weather agency said the storm was about 160 kilometers (99 miles) east of Amami city on Japan’s southern main island of Kyushu and moving gradually toward the north as of Monday afternoon. It warned residents in affected regions to watch out for mudslides, high winds and rough seas.
The storm has caused one death and 70 injuries on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, according to the country’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Due to the forecast of harsh weather in the region, West Japan Railway Co. said there was a possibility of suspending Shinkansen “bullet” train services from Wednesday night to Thursday morning.
The South Korean Safety Ministry said the storm will unleash strong winds and rain throughout the country from Wednesday to Friday and instructed local officials to prepare to shut down coastal areas, hiking trails, river parks, underpass tunnels and other sectors vulnerable to flooding.
Hot temperatures have already forced thousands of British and American scouts to leave the site, which is made on land reclaimed from sea. The British scouts were transferred to hotels in Seoul while the American scouts were moved to Camp Humphreys.
Hundreds of participants had been treated for heat-related ailments since the jamboree started on Wednesday. Long before the event started, critics raised concerns about bringing such large numbers of young people to a vast, treeless area lacking protection from the summer heat.
Geir Olav Kaase, leader of the 700-member Norwegian contingent, said Norwegian scouts had already started leaving the campsite on Monday evening to “avoid any chaos that may arise in the event of a joint evacuation.” Kasse said the evacuations were proceeding in “close cooperation” with the Danish contingent, but he did not specify whether the Danes have started to leave too.
”We do all we can to ensure that the scouts are safe and well, and that the transfer goes as smoothly as possible. We help each other and keep our spirits up,” Kaase said in a statement.
The Swedish news agency TT said some 1,500 scouts from Sweden will be relocated to Camp Humphreys along with Norwegian and Danish scouts.
Kim Hyun-sook, South Korea’s minister of gender equality and family, said officials are trying to arrange new cultural events and activities for the scouts before they leave, including a possible K-pop concert at a Seoul soccer stadium on Friday to go with the closing ceremony.
“We don’t see it that way,” Kim said when asked whether the scouts’ departure from Buan should be seen as an early end for the jamboree. “We are creating new programs with regional governments away from the campsite, so it could be said the jamboree is widening.”
Organizers earlier on Monday were scurrying to come up with plans to evacuate the scouts ahead of the storm’s arrival but weren’t committing to abandoning the campsite entirely.
Choi Chang-haeng, secretary-general of the jamboree’s organizing committee, said organizers have secured more than 340 evacuation venues, including community centers and gyms, in regions near Buan.
About 40,000 scouts came to the jamboree. About 4,500 were from the U.K., representing the largest national contingent, while about 1,000 were from the United States.
South Korea categorizes Khanun as a typhoon, defined as a tropical storm with winds stronger than 61 kph (38 mph). South Korea’s weather agency expects Khanun to weaken to a storm within the next five days.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.