Mass exodus to mainland from bombed island

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Mass exodus to mainland from bombed island


Yeonpyeong islanders wait to get on a passenger ferry bound for Incheon yesterday afternoon. Yeonpyeong Island is turning into a ghost town as most residents deserted the island yesterday. [NEWSIS]

Yeonpyeong Island transformed into a ghost town yesterday after most of its residents fled after North Korea’s attack on Tuesday.

Until Wednesday, the Coast Guard estimated that half of the island’s 1,756 residents chose to evacuate to the nearby port city of Incheon, but the number of evacuees continues to rise.

Choi Seong-il, a 47-year-old community leader, said he is encouraging islanders to go to Incheon because so many houses and buildings on the island were destroyed.

“Everyone except some who insist on staying will evacuate the island,” Choi said. “There will be only about 20 islanders left.

“We determined that the best option is to leave this island considering that weather is getting cold and many houses were destroyed in the attack. We also feel insecure about staying here because a South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise will start this Sunday in the Yellow Sea.”

Choi said that although South Korean patrol ships delivered boxes of ramen, first-aid kits and beverages, the situation on the island is dire.

An emergency committee of 30 islanders said they too will move to Incheon and help islanders adapt to their new living quarters, while working with the 1,700 exiles that will likely stay in Incheon to get government support, Choi added.

Public servants at the Yeonpyeong Township Office, the only local government office on the island, said leaving the island is up to each person.

“If there are any others who want to leave this island, the Yeonpyeong Township Office will provide every means of administrative assistance to them,” said an official at the office.

Yesterday morning, islanders formed a long line in front of the office to sign up for a ride off the island on a South Korean patrol ship.

“Everything on Yeonpyeong Island is paralyzed,” crab catcher Kim Gwang-chun, said to Yonhap News Agency. “We have all carved out a living on the sea and I don’t know what I will do in the future.”

Kim’s fellow crab fishermen left for Incheon Wednesday.

“When [the South Korean Navy ship] Cheonan sank, we couldn’t fish for 20 days, and I don’t have the words to express my feelings about the same thing happening again,” Kim said.

Kim hasn’t been able to fish since the attack on Yeonpyeong.

“It’s crab season and the price of crab shot up drastically because few are being caught,” Kim said. “I see a loss between 15 and 20 million won ($17,500) if I don’t work every day this peak season.”

The Yeonpyeong Township Office estimated that 200 islanders were still on the island as of noon yesterday.

Private ferries carrying islanders to and from Yeonpyeong Island resumed yesterday afternoon, two days after they were banned by the Navy. When the ferry company announced it would resume its service to Yeonpyeong at 12:30 p.m. yesterday, 322 islanders taking shelter in Incheon flocked to the island to pick up clothes or valuables.

“I even forgot to turn off lights in my guest house and I left the scene without closing the faucet,” Park Hoon-sik, a guest house owner, said to Yonhap News Agency. “I’m going back to the island for a few days because officers who were dispatched for emergency recovery operations have nowhere to sleep. I told officers to sleep at my guest house before departing to the mainland, but I need to take care of them.”

Park said he won’t stay long on the island.

“I just don’t feel safe there,” he said. “I will come back to Incheon immediately after I get my work done there. Now I’m even mulling over permanently leaving the island.”

Meanwhile, islanders who arrived in Incheon demanded Mayor Song Young-gil help the virtually homeless islanders settle in. More than 200 islanders attended the meeting. Some islanders said they don’t want to live on the island even if the government builds new houses for them.

Song accepted the islanders’ request for money to sleep at inns because many left their valuables behind after the artillery shelling.

“I have requested the government adopt a special law to offer financial aid to Yeonpyeong residents,” Song said.

Song added that Incheon will cover their expenses for accommodation and pay 30,000 won for meals per day in addition to offering free medical check-ups for residents at Inha University Hospital.

By Kim Mi-ju []
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