Many Jeju memories blanketed in snow

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Many Jeju memories blanketed in snow

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Hundreds of passengers, including children, stranded on Jeju Island due to heavy snowfall camp out at Jeju International Airport Friday morning after their flights back home were canceled or delayed. [YONHAP]

Thursday was no ordinary day for Choi Bong-ryeong, 56. He was in Jeju with his mom, 84, and in-laws, finishing a vacation in the destination known for its emerald seas, clear blue skies and mouthwatering seafood. A cold spell was starting to grip the nation.

Choi and his group were supposed to board a 1 p.m. flight to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul.

But by the time he arrived at Jeju’s lone airport, it was too late. Layers of snow and ice had already covered the runway. His flight was canceled - as were flights for several thousands of other vacationers.

The snow led to at least 292 cancellations and 312 delays at Jeju International Airport on Thursday and Friday, stranding more than 7,000 people on the southernmost part of the country. With no snow on Friday afternoon, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport expected everyone to be off the island by that night. At least 265 flights operated normally Friday.

Some 2,500 people camped in or near the Jeju airport Thursday night, the lucky ones staying in nearby accommodations.

After missing his flight at 1 p.m. Thursday, Choi and his family camped out at the airport. He got seats on a flight departing around 6 p.m., but the runway was shut down again due to heavy snowfall. Past midnight, Choi was told he could get on a plane departing at 12:50 a.m. Friday. It wasn’t until after he went through customs inspection that he was informed that flight was canceled, too.

He searched for a place to stay for the night, but most places were booked. Workers at the company that rented him a car eventually guided him to a guest home.

“Aside from the fact that I had to pay extra cash for this unexpected extra day in Jeju,” said Choi, “I feel so sorry for my mom and in-laws when I think of all the hassle they had to go through, and I’m so angry at all this.”

Han Jeong-ah, 40, from Jinju, South Gyeongsang, had it worse. She arrived in Jeju with three of her friends and their children, six youngsters, and planned to leave Thursday before their flight was canceled. They couldn’t find anywhere to stay and had no other choice but to sleep in the airport, along with several hundred strangers.

At 12:30 a.m. Friday, when employees of the airport and Jeju Tourism Organization arrived with bottles of water, mattresses and blankets, throngs of desperate passengers queued within seconds, yelling for more. A total of 7,500 bottles of water and 2,700 blankets were distributed.

“We’ve come to Jeju high on hopes about making memories we’d cherish for the rest of our lives,” said Han. “Never in my dreams did I expect we’d be sleeping in the airport like a homeless person.”

BY CHOI CHOONG-IL [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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