HOPES, FEARS

Relatives of miss­ing vic­tims un­able to move on 3 years later

New Straits Times - - World -

JINDO

HUD­DLED in makeshift ship­ping con­tainer homes on a South Korean wa­ter­front, relatives of the miss­ing from the Se­wol ferry dis­as­ter have en­dured a har­row­ing wait to re­cover the re­mains of their chil­dren.

Nearly three years ago, Lee Keum-hui’s daugh­ter, Eun-hwa, went on a school trip and never re­turned.

Lee rushed to the is­land here, a five-hour drive from her home in An­san, on the day the Se­wol sank, hop­ing to bring her fright­ened daugh­ter home. Since then, she has lived at Paengmok har­bour, the clos­est port to the ac­ci­dent, un­able to be­gin mourn­ing.

“I had brought a change of clothes for my daugh­ter... But, I have been wait­ing for more than 1,070 days now. Time stopped on April 16, 2014,” Lee said.

She re­called the night she first stared out at the dark sea that had taken her 16-year-old.

Eun-hwa is one of the nine vic­tims whose bod­ies could still be trapped in­side the Se­wol, the 6,825-tonne ferry that emerged from the murky depths yes­ter­day.

The ves­sel was car­ry­ing 476 peo­ple when it went down off this south­west­ern is­land, leav­ing 304 peo­ple dead — al­most all of them school­child­ren — in one of the na­tion’s worst mar­itime dis­as­ters.

Lee and her hus­band, as well as four other relatives of miss­ing vic­tims, have set up tem­po­rary homes on a gravel lot near Paengmok har­bour. The wind rat­tles the stones, and their show­ers are ice cold even in the depths of South Korea’s chilly win­ter.

“That’s noth­ing com­pared to what our daugh­ters had to go through,” said Park Eun-mi, the mother of another miss­ing stu­dent, Huh Da-yun.

“They’re in freez­ing cold wa­ter.”

Win­ter jack­ets, scarves and jeans are seen hang­ing in the ship­ping con­tainer where she lives with her hus­band, Huh Hong-hwan, a for­mer steel­worker. A small car­i­ca­ture por­trait of Da-yun drawn by a well­wisher hangs on a wall be­low her school iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card.

In Korean cul­ture, fam­ily mem­bers stop mourn­ing for the dead af­ter three years, but the relatives at Paengmok felt that with­out their chil­dren’s bod­ies, they were never given a chance to even be­gin.

“Peo­ple treat us as one of the be­reaved fam­i­lies, but we are dif­fer­ent,” said Lee’s hus­band, Cho Nam-seong.

Lee walks down the har­bour to­wards a light­house painted with a gi­ant yel­low rib­bon — a sym­bol for the vic­tims of the dis­as­ter. She stops and reads out the ban­ners hang­ing on each side of the path.

“This is my favourite,” she said, point­ing to one that read: “Let’s go home with mum.”

“My only wish is to be able to hold her in my arms again.”

The Se­wol was fi­nally brought to the sur­face yes­ter­day. Sal­vage ex­perts plan to trans­fer it to the nearby port of Mokpo, where it qill be thor­oughly searched.

The relatives have been wait­ing for three years for the ves­sel to be raised, but a sud­den sense of fear over­takes them when they think about the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“We are scared our chil­dren may not be there. But, we... hope that we will find them. That sense of fear is unimag­in­able,” Lee said, break­ing into tears.

She said even if Eun-hwa’s body was re­cov­ered, it would be dif­fi­cult to re­turn to her home in An­san, where Eun-hwa’s room was be­ing kept.

“That is where I spent time with Eun-hwa, so her ab­sence will be even greater. But, when I think about how Eun-hwa would want her mum to live, she would want her mum to be hap­pier, smile more and hurt less.” AFP

REUTERS PIX

The ‘Se­wol’ is seen dur­ing its sal­vage op­er­a­tions off Jindo in South Korea yes­ter­day. (In­set) A rel­a­tive of a miss­ing vic­tim cry­ing.

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