SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has visited typhoon-stricken areas in the northeast, fired a top official there and promised to send 12,000 workers from Pyongyang for recovery efforts, state media reported Sunday.
It's the latest in a series of high-profile visits by Kim and his deputies to areas hit by natural disasters in recent weeks. Some experts say Kim is probably attempting to project an image of a leader looking after people's livelihoods as he seeks to bolster internal unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and U.S.-led sanctions.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim on Saturday visited South Hamgyong province, which was hit by Typhoon Maysak last week. It said Kim was briefed that the typhoon destroyed more than 1,000 houses and inundated public buildings and farmland in the coastal areas of South Hamgyong as well as nearby North Hamgyong province.
KCNA didn't report any deaths or injuries in the two provinces. But the country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Saturday that "dozens of casualties" were reported in Kangwon province, south of the Hamgyong provinces, and that officials in Kangwon would be "gravely punished" for failing to evacuate residents to safety.
Kim also convened a high-level policy meeting there, where he "underscored the need to make the recovery campaign from damage an important political work and an occasion of consolidating the single-[minded] unity," KCNA said.
Kim said authorities must issue "a general mobilization order" to ensure the swift supply of materials for rehabilitation works and urged members of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, the capital, to take the lead.
In a separate open letter to party members in Pyongyang, Kim said the 12,000-strong divisions of the party "elite" will be sent to aid recovery in South and North Hamgyong provinces.
KCNA said Kim also dismissed Kim Song Il, chairman of the South Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the Workers' Party.
Kim needs greater public support to deal with worsening economic pain caused by the sanctions imposed over his nuclear program, and the pandemic that had forced him to seal off his country's border with China, its biggest trading partner and economic pipeline.