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Rescuers work to search for survivors along a road submerged by floodwaters leading to an underground tunnel in Cheongju, South Korea. Image Credit: AP

Seoul: Rescuers battled to reach people trapped in a flooded tunnel Sunday in South Korea, where at least 33 people have died and 10 are missing after heavy rains caused flooding and landslides.

South Korea is at the peak of its summer monsoon season, and there has been heavy rainfall for the last four days, causing a major dam to overflow.

The interior ministry reported that 33 people had been killed and another 10 were missing in the heavy downpours, mostly buried by landslides or after falling into a flooded reservoir.

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Rescue workers were still struggling to reach more than 10 cars trapped in a 430-metre (1,410-foot) underground tunnel in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province, the ministry said.

The tunnel was inundated on Saturday morning after floodwaters swept in too quickly for the people inside to escape, according to the Yonhap news agency.

As of Sunday, seven bodies have been recovered from the tunnel and divers were working around the clock searching for more victims, the interior ministry said.

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Rescue workers continued to fight to reach people trapped in a flooded tunnel. Image Credit: AFP

"I have no hope but I can't leave," a parent of one of those missing in the tunnel told Yonhap.

"My heart wrenches thinking how painful it must have been for my son in the cold water."

Images broadcast on local television showed a torrential stream of water from a nearby river that had burst its banks flooding into the tunnel, as rescue workers struggled to use boats to get to people inside.

'Grave' danger

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is currently on an overseas trip, held an emergency meeting with his aides on the government's response to the heavy rains and flooding, his office said.

Earlier, he ordered Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to mobilise all available resources to minimise casualties.

The majority of the casualties - including 17 of the dead and nine of the missing - were from North Gyeongsang province, and were largely due to massive landslides in the mountainous area that engulfed houses with people inside.

Some of the people who have been reported missing were swept away when a river overflowed in the province, the interior ministry said.

More rain is forecast through Wednesday, and the Korea Meteorological Administration has warned the weather conditions pose a "grave" danger.

South Korea is regularly hit by flooding during the summer monsoon period, but the country is typically well-prepared and the death toll is usually relatively low.

Scientists say climate change has made weather events around the world more extreme and more frequent.

South Korea endured record-breaking rains and flooding last year, which left more than 11 people dead.

They included three people who died trapped in a Seoul basement apartment of the kind that became internationally known because of the Oscar-winning Korean film "Parasite".

The government said at the time that the 2022 flooding was the heaviest rainfall since Seoul weather records began 115 years ago, blaming climate change for the extreme weather.