For islanders, a time to duck

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For islanders, a time to duck

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Yeonpyeong Island residents gather together yesterday at one of the air-raid shelters on the island near the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea. As a live-fire drill was being held, the South Korean government ordered inhabitants to take shelter in evacuation facilities. [YONHAP]


YEONPYEONG ISLAND - Residents taking refuge at an air-raid shelter on Yeonpyeong Island yesterday became jittery when artillery firing resumed around 3:30 p.m., sounding stronger than earlier rounds.

The South Korean military had shifted to a more powerful set of guns, Vulcans, about an hour after the live-fire drill began at 2:30 p.m..

But to some residents, it sounded like a repeat of the shelling by North Korea last month, which killed four people.

About 100 remaining residents on Yeonpyeong marched into air-defense shelters early in the morning as the military geared up for the 90-minute drill, despite the threat of “retaliation” from North Korea. It marked another high point for inter-Korean tensions after the North’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23.

On Baengnyeong Island, another border island in the Yellow Sea, the sound of long, high-pitched sirens permeated the walls of houses and buildings at 2:30 p.m.

“The artillery drill in the sea off Yeonpyeong Island has begun,” said a voice from the speakers blasting the siren. “Residents, please evacuate.”

Said Lee Ui-myeong, a Baengnyeong Island resident: “I am nervous about how [North Korea] would respond. I am afraid I will be that way for the time being.”

Like Yeonpyeong, Baengnyeong faces North Korea’s coastal artillery bases slightly more than 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) away, but it was the first time since the end of the Korean War that all Baengnyeong residents were evacuated into air-raid shelters. Two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school on the island were all evacuated of students during morning classes.

Around 1,000 residents on Daecheong, another border island in the Yellow Sea, also ran for cover into 31 air-defense shelters on the island.

Socheong Island residents, numbering around 150, also hid in nine shelters.

Mainland residents were also evacuated yesterday. At around 10 a.m. yesterday, 47 residents of Hwoengsan, a village in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi, were dispatched in 17 cars to a shelter in a town 10 kilometers south.

Hwoengsan is only 2 or 3 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone. It is the first time the entire population was evacuated.

Residents of towns within the civilian control line in Paju, and merchants in the Imjingak tourist site near the border, were also evacuated into air raid shelters before Monday’s live-fire exercise began.


By Yu Kil-yong, Jeon Ik-jin [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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