Anxiety grows among displaced islanders

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Anxiety grows among displaced islanders

Residents who were evacuated from Yeonpyeong Island and have found temporary housing at a public bathhouse in Incheon are concerned that the four-day drill between Korea and the U.S. could provoke North Korea to again shell their hometown.

“I’m really scared that shells will fall on the island again,” said Park Mun-hwan, 70, a Yeonpyeong resident staying at the bathhouse. “It is really hot and difficult to live here. But I can’t go back to the island anymore.”

Nervous islanders gathered around a television on Sunday when there was news that North Korean artillery could be heard in the area.

When Park Myeong-seon, 63, whose son had been dispatched to the island, heard the news of the artillery fire, she began to sob. “I have called my son several times since this morning [Sunday], but there was no answer,” Park said. “I sincerely want North Korea to stop [provoking us.]”

The residents, who have left so much behind, were nonetheless hesitant to return to the island after having endured the attack last Tuesday.

“I can’t understand why North Korea is doing this,” said 61-year-old resident Seong Cheon-gyeong.

Ham Bu-jeon, 89, said she is depressed about the situation in her hometown, saying, “I can’t go back to the scary island anymore.”

Children who escaped the island with their parents were also reeling from the shock.

Han-sol, a 7-year-old boy who escaped with his mother but had left his father behind at the military base, could not describe his feelings over being separated from his father. Maybe it was all just too much to take in.

About 500 evacuees, most of whom were elderly, have suffered from headaches and flu symptoms. People on edge couldn’t sleep in the crowded bathhouse. Some described symptoms of dizziness and digestion problems.

“Do you think this place is acceptable for human beings? It is so stuffy that I’m about to die,” said Yun Jong-gyun, 56.

Yesterday, the National Emergency Management Agency launched a counseling service in the bathhouse with six counselors and four volunteers.

The emergency agency said it is also devising several programs for children, including one on mental health. In addition, children are temporarily being allowed to attend nearby schools during the day.

Meanwhile, the islanders have asked the government to arrange for cozier and more permanent shelters so they can move out of the crowded bathhouse.

Yu Dae-geun, who is representing the evictees, said, “We need a more comfortable residence where all of us can live, such as an apartment building, because we have many issues to discuss together.”


By Lim Ju-ree, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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