Antipathy for Lee’s loss riles public
The government usually awards those injured or killed by natural disasters between 5 million won ($4,600) and 10 million won if their case is endorsed by provincial governors and the area designated a special disaster zone.
But it refused to do so for 65 year-old Lee Wu-chun because he was not a tenant in the building where the accident occurred.
Lee, who now walks with a hobble and claims to have damaged vision, is not even permitted to attend compensation negotiations between authorities and locals because he is not registered in Seocho district.
“I’ve heard that residents in the Mount Umyeon area will be receiving compensation, but not me,” said Lee, who needs to take tranquilizers to sleep after living through a nightmare.
“When I asked the district office, they told me that I’m not eligible for any money even though I was injured in the landslide.”
Lee’s story triggered a public outcry as netizens asked why the government was not doing more to support a man who should have been enjoying what is normally considered retirement age in peace with his spouse, but for whom circumstance has compelled to keep working as a manual laborer.
He retired from a company that manufactures wallpaper around 2001. To make ends meet, he began his own shop, which provides wall-papering services, and was also supported by his children.
He is currently receiving no social security benefits as he did not join the state-run national pension scheme, which began in 1988 and expanded its number of policy-holders gradually through the 1990s.
Lee was papering the walls of a luxury apartment in Bangbae-dong on July 27 with spouse Lee Sook-je when a wall of mud engulfed the property, burying him and sweeping his wife out of the property that lies near Mount Umyeon.
The man, who had been hunting for business for some time, recalled hearing an earsplitting noise and seeing what looked like a huge shadow fill the room before everything went black, 30 minutes after the couple had begun work.
He awoke bleeding and submerged in sludge, and began digging the wet soil from his nose and mouth. After digging his way out of the apartment, he failed to find his wife and was taken to a nearby hospital. The last thing he remembers telling rescuers before collapsing unconscious was to make sure they found her.
In the afternoon, Lee’s son arrived at the scene and ventured into the building to search for his mother as rescuers and residents tried to block their passage, having deemed the premises unsafe.
The woman’s body was later found in a cargo yard some 20 meters from the luxury complex.
The son and his brother-in-law returned to the hospital with the corpse, whose eyes remained open due to the congealed mud.
Lee said he urged doctors to allow him to wash her face and hair and close her eyelids, despite the physical pain he was in, as a last measure of respect.
“It was the last thing I could do for my wife,” he said. “She was always more than happy to help me with my work, and she never complained about our never having any money.”
Lee buried his wife on July 29.
By Lee Ji-sang, Kwon Sang-soo [email@example.com]
한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
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부인 잃은 도배업자 본지 보도에 “돕고 싶다” 전화e-메일 쏟아져
지난달 27일 우면산 산사태 당시 서울 방배동 래미안아트힐 아파트에서 도배 일을 하다 아내를 잃은 이우춘(65)씨에 대한 본지 보도(8월 11일자 16면) 후 안타깝다는 반응과 돕고 싶다는 전화와 e-메일이 답지했다. 서울 서초동에 사는 독자 최경승(31)씨는 “언론마다 아파트 주민이 사망했다고 보도해 그런 줄로만 알았는데 도배 일을 하던 분이 변을 당했다고 해서 놀랐다”고 말했다. 이촌동에 사는 허용환(51)씨도 “기사를 읽고 출근길 내내 마음이 무거웠다. 한 집안의 가장으로서 뭔가 하지 않으면 마음이 힘들 것 같다”며 후원 의사를 밝혔다. 허씨는 “다들 힘들게 살던 1970년대 두 분이 만나서 고생 많이 하셨을 텐데 이제 자리 잡을 만할 시기에 이런 일을 당하다니 슬프다”고 말했다. 회사원 양혜영(27)씨는 “기사를 읽다가 눈물이 왈칵 쏟아졌다”며 “보상마저 부익부 빈익빈이 돼선 안 될 것”이라고 말했다.
현재 이씨가 받을 수 있는 보상금은 정부 재난지원금이 유일하다. 재난 및 안전관리기본법에 따라 부상·사망자의 주민등록상 거주지의 기초단체에서 지원한다. 이씨는 대방동에 거주하기 때문에 동작구청에서 지원을 담당한다. 하지만 동작구청 관계자는 “사망자·부상자 관련 자료가 아직 다 넘어오지 않아 보상 절차가 진행되고 있지 않다”며 “곧 서울시에 예산 배정을 요청할 것”이라고 말했다. 서초구청 측은 “지난 5일 사망자 관련 자료를 해당 자치단체에 모두 넘겼다”며 “사망자 15명 중 8명이 다른 지역 주민”이라고 설명했다. 이우춘씨는 “구청 연락을 받은 적은 한 번도 없다”고 했다.