A ‘terror’ island, as residents take cover in shelling

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A ‘terror’ island, as residents take cover in shelling

Yeonpyeong Island, near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, turned into a scene from a nightmare yesterday when North Korea fired at least a hundred artillery shells at the island and the surrounding sea.

The North’s artillery fire first started falling at 2:34 p.m. on Yeonpyeong Island. With artillery exploding on the island, terrified residents evacuated the scene and hid in shelters under the instruction of town officials. After the attack, residents holed up in 19 shelters on the island.

“I was at my house and I suddenly heard a ‘bang,’” said a 35-year-old resident surnamed Kim. “I went out to see what was going on and I saw all my neighborhood turned into a sea of fire. My neighbors and I were terrified.”

In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, Lee Jong-sik, a resident of the island, was quoted as saying that “all of the village is now dark and I can’t see what’s in front of me.”

“The shocks were profound when each artillery shell landed on the island. This community of ours is appalled by the attack. We aren’t safe because the artillery attack can resume at any time.”

More than 120 students who were in class at Yeonpyeong’s primary schools were evacuated with their teachers to a hill behind the school building after they heard artillery explosions.

Though the school wasn’t directly hit, some windows were broken.

Yeonpyeong Island is actually a pair of two islands - Daeyeonpyeong and Soyeonpyeong - and the area largely affected by the North’s abrupt attack was the larger Daeyeonpyeong Island.

Park Jae-hwan represents fishermen on Soyeonpyeong Island and said he witnessed Daeyeonpyeong Island erupt into flames.

“I originally thought our Navy had fired shells as a part of an exercise,” Park said. “We Soyeonpyeong Islanders evacuated to shelters in case of other attacks.

According to 2009 government statistics, 1,780 residents live on Yeonpyeong Island in 932 households.

Kim Hye-yeong, a 51-year-old woman who runs a crab seafood restaurant on the island, said she was on a dock to pick up boxes of seafood around 2:30 p.m. when she heard the artillery explosions.

“There was an ear-splitting noise whenever the artillery landed,” Kim said. “My town is about 10 minutes away by car from where I work and I felt I must get back there to see my mother and husband. I drove to town but I had to stop, get out of the car and back onto the ground for a moment because artillery fire kept exploding on the island.

“So I left my car and walked to my village ... I went home and all the windows of my house were shattered and the roof had collapsed. A piece of artillery even landed on my house.”

When Kim got to a shelter, she saw about 50 people, including her mother, had dug in for safety.

“It’s an underground bunker and there’s no food and no electricity ... the town office is telling people through a loudspeaker to stay in the bunkers.”

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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