Asia

Korean ferry: I watched the events unfold

  • 17 April 2014
  • From the section Asia

Emergency services are still searching for hundreds of passengers missing after a ferry carrying more than 470 people sank near Jindo island, off the South Korean coast.

The search has been hindered by difficult weather conditions and strong currents

Most of the passengers on board the MV Sewol were pupils at Danwon high school in Ansan, near Seoul, the capital.

Families of those on board have been gathering in Jindo island, near where the ferry went down.

Sara Paterson is an American teaching English at the high school in Jindo. Here she describes how her school and community have been affected by the events.

Sara Paterson
Sara Paterson outside the high school in Jindo island where she teaches English. The school is located next to a gymnasium where families and media have gathered to wait for news of the rescue effort.

"I am an English teacher working here in Jindo, South Korea.

Yesterday I watched the events unfold from my office window at Jindo high school, which is located across the street from the gym where the families, students and media are waiting.

Yesterday the students, fellow teachers and I spent much of the day looking out the window at all the commotion.

Helicopters using our school field as a landing point to transfer people to the gym caused quite a stir; the constant blaring of sirens in a previously quaint and quite farming and fishing town.

Our students were shook up all day, as many will go on the same trip next month, and upon hearing the news some rushed out of class to call their siblings, who also left yesterday on a trip for Jeju from the local middle school.

First-grade girls burst into tears upon reading various text messages from students to parents on social media.

And then we saw the buses full of parents from Ansan roll into the stadium, one after another after another - 240 parents.

My stomach sank immediately and it has stayed there for the last 24 hours. I cannot begin to fathom what these families are going through.

As I sit in my office having a 'normal' workday, just across the street hundreds of families are waiting in limbo. Hundreds of families' lives will take a drastic turn.

This morning started out with a song of remembrance played over the intercom. There was not a dry eye in my office.

The atmosphere is very gloomy as everyone, and especially the students, is taking it very hard.

Today is a bit quieter but we did see President Park Geun-hye's motorcade go by. The president coming to Jeollanam-do province was a surprise to many as she is not well favoured here.

Families of missing passengers congregate at the gymnasium in Jindo
Families of passengers still missing from the stricken South Korean ferry wait in the gymnasium in Jindo Island, hoping for news

Today co-workers have expressed how upset they are that the captain abandoned ship. I asked how this was accepted culturally as elders are most respected here in Korea.

Their response? 'Not in this situation. It is their job to make sure people stay safe, and it was their responsibility, they failed a moral obligation.'

Life on our quiet island is far from normal in these past few days.

Our town is too small to accommodate the influx of people arriving, so most families have made camp at the town gym near our school, or others in small tents at the harbour.

Local restaurant owners have left their shops to go to serve those gathered at the two locations.

Parents in Jindo rushed to the gym to help distribute hot meals and blankets. The foreign teachers will be headed there tonight to see what can be done.

The community is really reaching out, coming together to help these strangers however they can. It's really beautiful to see.

We've heard from friends who are doctors at both hospitals and treating those rescued at the harbour the thing they need most now is emotional support."

Sara Paterson
Before the ferry disaster, Sara Paterson and her husband had enjoyed the tranquillity and beauty of the Jindo island coast where the ship now lies

Interview by Amber Dawson

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