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TYPHOON MAEMI - A CLOSE BRUSH

During a recent swing through Southeast Asia we tried our best to keep a close eye on a developing typhoon named Maemi.  However even in this "information age," getting accurate information on the storm from face to face people contact proved to be quite difficult and frustrating.

While in Kuala Lumpur and watching BBC World News on Thursday, forecasters said the storm had the potential of becoming a super typhoon and one of the worst ever to threaten Korea.  Our trip was winding down and we were due to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok the next day and after a brief respite there, on to Seoul for our connecting flight back to the U.S.

The next day, Friday, forecasters said the storm was due to hit South Korea sometime either late Friday or early Saturday.  Our day started out on Friday with an early morning flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.  We arrived in Bangkok around 9:30am and went to a hotel to rest up for the long haul back home to the U.S.  Our Korean Air jet was due to leave Bangkok early the next morning (Saturday) at 1:20am for the five hour flight to Seoul.  So the situation was this. The huge typhoon was due to hit Korea sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning or the precise time frame of our flight into Seoul.

Late Friday afternoon I phoned the Korean Air airport number in Bangkok.  I asked if our flight was still scheduled to fly to Seoul and in severely broken English, the agent replied: "Yes sir, no problem."  I asked if the typhoon was threatening Korea and she said:  "No sir, no problem."  So off to the airport we went late that night (Friday) to catch our plane to Seoul.

Once at the Bangkok airport I checked with the people at the Korean Air counter as we checked in and asked if the storm was going to be a problem or threat.  Again:  "Everything's fine.  No problem."

Once we boarded our Boeing 777-300ER for Seoul I asked the flight crew about the typhoon.  Nobody had any information other to say that the flight would be experiencing no delays or problems.

Other than light to moderate chop (an aviation term for a bumpy ride) the flight was uneventful and when we touched down in Seoul Saturday morning at 8:30, it was an incredibly beautiful sunny day.  No evidence of any typhoon whatsoever.  Not even one, single mud puddle!

We headed to the Korean Air business lounge to relax before our next flight to Atlanta.  Once there I asked the desk agent about the typhoon and whether it had posed a threat to Seoul.  "No, not at all," I was told.  I asked whether it had been a problem elsewhere in Korea and the agent did not have any information.

We boarded our Korean Air Boeing 777-200ER for the 14 hour flight to Atlanta and once again on board I asked a flight attendant if he knew anything about the storm.  He had no information.  So at that point, we pretty much drew the conclusion that the storm had probably blown harmlessly out to sea.

After landing in Atlanta and checking into an airport hotel to shake off the jet lag, we flipped CNN on only to learn that typhoon Maemi had been the most severe and devastating storm in the history of Korea with heavy loss of life and massive property damage.  We were shocked.   We had been fairly close to ground zero yet nobody knew anything about it over there!

Typhoon Maemi is blamed for at least 113 deaths in Southeastern South Korea.  It struck with maximum sustained winds of 135 miles an hour, an all time record.  More than 7,000 were left homeless, at least temporarily.  The typhoon dumped more than 17.8 inches of rain in some areas.  It even caused havoc in portions of North Korea.  One final note.  "Maemi" in Korean means cicada, a pesky insect.

One account of the storm was published here.

Needless to say this was a bizarre experience and once we got back home the first thing everybody asked us was:  "Wow, how bad was the that awful typhoon?"  All we could do is relate the story you've just read!

 

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