SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) -- North Korean authorities have indicated flooding may have left up to 300,000 people homeless, a U.N. aid agency spokesman said on Wednesday, and crop losses may be severe in the impoverished state that has battled famine.
A lamp stands on the flooded bank of the Taedong-gang River in Pyongyang Tuesday.
North Korea, which has suffered chronic food shortages for years, said flooding over the past several days has killed or left hundreds missing, washed away thousands of structures and ruined cropland in the country's agricultural bread basket.
Paul Risley, Asia spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program, said a U.N. assessment team has visited one flood-hit area near Pyongyang and added that North Korea is seeking international help.
"There was great concern that because these floods occurred during the period of pollination, that it is likely that these floods will have a very significant impact on the quantity of harvest," Risley said by telephone from Bangkok.
North Korean officials who met the assessment team said they believed that between 200,000 to 300,000 people have been dislocated by the floods and are in dire need of shelter and food, Risley said.
More U.N. assessment teams will visit other flood-ravaged areas in the coming days, he said.
"The primary need will be for emergency food rations, shelter material and medicine," Risley said.
In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, promised at a meeting with North Korean Ambassador Pak Gil Yon that the world body would do all it could to help.
The South Korean government has said it is ready to aid its neighbor but has yet to receive a request. The United States is also considering aid.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said it expected damage to be worse than last year, when three big storms hit North Korea. A pro-Pyongyang newspaper reported that more than 800 people were killed or went missing in the resulting floods.
The ministry said it does not believe the flooding will delay a planned summit of the leaders of the two Koreas set for August 28-30 in Pyongyang.
In a late Tuesday dispatch, the North's official KCNA news agency said the floods "are causing an enormous damage to the various sectors of the national economy."
It said landslides have wrecked railway lines and roads, while electric lines have snapped in a country that does not generate enough power to keep street lights on at night in most places.
Official news broadcasts in the secretive state showed images of collapsed bridges and civilians digging with shovels and their hands for material to build embankments. The broadcasts were monitored in Seoul.
North Korea's infrastructure outside of showcase projects in Pyongyang is mostly in shambles. North Korea has few funds for building and still uses power and rail lines built during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule.
Even with a good harvest, North Korea still falls about 1 million tons short of the food it needs to feed its 23 million people, experts have said.
The flooding has hit most of the southern half of North Korea and includes the capital and some of its most productive agricultural regions. More rain is forecast for those areas over the next few days. E-mail to a friend
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