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August 22, 2017

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This is what the fallout of war with North Korea could look like

SEOUL — With a vow to unleash "fire and fury" against North Korea if the rogue nation continued to threaten the United States, President Donald Trump has escalated rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang to an unprecedented level over North Korea's nuclear weapons program and missile tests.

As the U.S. government weighs military options as part of its response to a nuclear threat, the two countries could be inching closer to a full-blown war. A targeted military strike or even inadvertent escalation would likely trigger retaliation from North Korea, with potentially devastating consequences for South Korea and the 28,500 U.S. soldiers stationed on the peninsula.

What are the potential consequences of a war with North Korea?

- An enormous death toll. About 25 million people live in the greater Seoul area, just an hour south of the border with North Korea.

Lives would be threatened without the use of nuclear weapons. North Korea has stashed as many as 15,000 artillery weapons in the hillsides behind the Military Demarcation Line, which separates the two countries. The Nautilus Institute, an American think tank, estimates that about 700 artillery weapons could reach the South Korean city.

- Mass panic. Seoul is a difficult city to evacuate, divided by the Han River and bordered to the south by mountains.

- A potential attack by Pyongyang at Japan, an American ally.

- A global economic and financial crisis. South Korea has the 11th-largest economy in the world.

- A potential global conflict. It is not clear how Russia or China, North Korea's closest diplomatic allies, would respond.

- A Chinese military invasion of North Korea in the event of a U.S. attack, as part of an effort to control the nuclear weapons and stabilize the situation.

- A refugee crisis: Millions of North Koreans could attempt to flee by crossing the border to China.

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