South Korea, Japan heat waves turn deadly as extreme weather persists

SEOUL — The extreme weather sweeping across Asia has claimed more victims, with South Korea and Japan reporting deaths from the sweltering heat and authorities in both countries issuing alerts this week.

Extreme heat waves and typhoons have wreaked havoc this summer. In China, Typhoon Doksuri hit Beijing this week, killing 11 and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.

Coming on the heels of Doksuri, Typhoon Khanun has been churning through Japan’s southernmost Okinawa prefecture, unleashing powerful winds and heavy rain on Wednesday and triggering more alerts.

Scientists have warned that extreme weather events have become more frequent and damaging as a result of global warming.

On Tuesday, the South Korean government raised the heat alert to its highest level for the first time since 2019. Temperatures in parts of South Korea topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) this week, although it feels hotter because of high humidity.

At least 23 people in South Korea have died of heat-related causes since late May, according to estimates by the country’s fire authorities. Of those, two deaths — of older people who were doing agricultural work outside — were reported Tuesday.

This summer’s death toll is more than three times that from the same period last year, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called this week for a “belt-and-braces” approach to prevent heat-related illness, especially among the elderly and people who work outdoors. He told officials to consider cooling shelters across the country and monitor the energy supply amid soaring air-conditioning demands.

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More than 400 heatstroke cases have been reported among tens of thousands of teenage campers at the World Scout Jamboree, which opened in South Korea’s southwestern Buan County on Wednesday.

Some participating countries postponed sending their delegations to the international youth event amid concerns about adverse conditions at the campsite. Jamboree organizers said they have expanded emergency medical support and set up cooling shelters to prevent heat-related illnesses.

In neighboring Japan, temperatures as high as 103.6 degrees (39.8C) have been recorded in southern parts of the country this week. As of Wednesday, a “special heatstroke alert” has been issued in 32 prefectures in Japan, meaning school activities are canceled and tourist sites closed.

Japan is coming off its hottest July since records began 125 years ago. With temperatures routinely surpassing 95 degrees (35C), a record 11,765 people were taken to hospitals for heatstroke last week, which is 1.8 times the figure during the same period last year.

Despite the Japanese government’s goal to halve heat-related deaths by 2030, this summer’s heatstroke toll is soaring. A 13-year-old student died of suspected heatstroke on her way home from school last week in Yamagata prefecture, north of Tokyo.

In central Tokyo, 73 people died last month of heat-related illness, the Tokyo Medical Examiner’s Office said. Over half did not use air conditioning at home, according to the office.

In rapidly aging Japan and South Korea, the elderly are hit hardest among the heat victims, complicating public health adaptation strategies.

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