Spy in sky reveals typhoon disaster

A British spy satellite has revealed the extent of a major disaster in North Korea that was covered up by its Communist rulers. Pictures released today show that at least ten thousand people died when the country was struck by a super typhoon called Bilis.

TopSat image of disasterThe North Korean government’s official figures claimed that 549 people died and 295 were missing following the disaster in July.

But experts at Durham University say the death toll is likely to have been well over 10,000 people and possibly considerably more.

They reached their conclusions after studying photos from a micro-satellite called TopSat, launched last year to provide images of the Earth and to assist in disaster monitoring. I have already written on how the satellite, designed and built in Surrey, won a top award.

Professor Dave Petley, of Durham’s International Landslide Centre, commissioned the images after organisations in South Korea expressed their concerns about the typhoon’s true impact.

They examined detailed before and after images of the town Yangdok in North Korea in order to determine the huge storm’s actual impact. The images reveal clear evidence of devastating floods and landslides which ripped through the communities in the middle of the night. Rivers overflowed their banks, sweeping away bridges and apartment blocks. In just one small community on the outskirts of Yangdok, at least 27 large apartment blocks were destroyed or seriously damaged.

The scientists say there is also evidence of severe damage to infrastructure, including washed out bridges, destroyed roads and railway lines and complete infilling of reservoirs. Agricultural land was badly damaged which will seriously affect food production in a country where so many are already starving.

Professor Petley said: “It is clear that the level of damage is extremely high. The flood is believed to have happened in the middle of the night, when many of the inhabitants in the mainly residential buildings were sleeping.

“It is likely that the death toll associated with these floods would have been very high, probably well over 10,000 rather than the official figure of 549. Certainly Typhoon Bilis resulted in a disaster on an epic scale in North Korea.”

Photo courtesy of the TopSat Consortium, copyright QinetiQ.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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