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Four dead as typhoon pounds ships

A powerful typhoon has pounded South Korea with strong winds and heavy rain as the coastguard battled rough seas in a race to rescue fishermen on two Chinese ships that slammed into rocks off the southern coast.

At least four fishermen died and 11 were missing.

Dangerous waves kept rescue boats from approaching the ships and the coastguard used a special gun to shoot rope to one ship so that officers could pull themselves over and bring the fishermen to shore, said coastguard spokesman Ko Chang-keon. Eighteen fishermen were either rescued or washed ashore.

South Korea issued a storm warning for the capital Seoul as Typhoon Bolaven battered the country's south and west, knocking over street lights and church spires, ripping signs from stores and leaving tens of thousands without power. North Korea, which is still rebuilding from massive floods and a devastating drought before that, was expected to be lashed by rain and wind later.

Heavy rain is often catastrophic in North Korea because of poor drainage, deforestation and dilapidated infrastructure. North Korea is still trying to help people with food, shelter, healthcare and clean water after heavy flooding in July, according to a recent United Nations situation report.

More than 170 died nationwide and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in the floods, according to official North Korean accounts. Many still live in tents with limited access to water and other basic facilities, the UN report said, and there is worry about increased malnutrition in coming weeks.

Further south, another typhoon, Tembin, doubled back and hit Taiwan three days after drenching the same region before blowing out to sea. Fierce winds and rain toppled coconut trees and blew away large advertising boards in the beach resort town of Hengchun.

South Korean officials predicted strong winds and rain in Seoul, and the Defence Ministry said US and South Korean military forces temporarily halted joint war games. Traffic was sparse in Seoul today during the normally congested morning rush hour. More than 15,000 schools cancelled classes, and businesses and homes taped windows or pasted the glass with wet newspapers to keep it from shattering.

Nearly 200,000 South Korean households lost power, the government said, and more than 50 were left homeless because of floods or storm damage.

Bolaven hit the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Monday, injuring four people but doing less damage than feared before moving off to sea. More than 75,000 households lost power. Weather officials had warned that Bolaven would be the strongest typhoon to hit the region in several years, but its gusts were not as powerful as predicted.

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