South Korea ferry: Desperation of grieving relatives

Jonathan Head: "This is still a very slow process, painfully slow for the families"

Here at the small port on the southern island of Jindo, you always know when the boats will be bringing in more bodies from the sunken ferry.

The police form lines in front of the quay and prepare long tables to receive the corpses. Once the police boats have docked - and they have done this several times on Sunday - six officials go through the solemn ritual of unloading the body bags, wrapping them once more in another cloth, and taking them to a tent where relatives will try to identify them.

Every so often you hear a scream of grief.

Few people are under any illusions now that this is now an operation to recover bodies, and that no-one will be found alive.

But the families have not yet agreed to abandon all hope. At a meeting in the gymnasium where many are staying, they decided that the authorities must still treat this as a search-and-rescue operation.

Graphic showing location of sunken ferry and timeline of events

So the painstaking work of more than 560 divers continues, 20km (12.5 miles) offshore, battling fierce currents to move through the interior of the submerged ferry, pulling out the bodies. They have more secure lines now linking the hull with the sea's surface, helping them search more safely.

Four huge cranes have been brought alongside, to try to lift the ferry - but that can only happen when all the families agree to it.

Each time a body is retrieved, the death toll on the whiteboard here at the port is updated, and relatives crowd round to see the descriptive details - distinctive clothing, jewellery, a mobile phone - to help them decide whether to visit the identification tent. Next to the whiteboard is another tent where DNA samples can be taken.

And there are many, many more tents, serving food, offering counselling or medical treatment. Some are volunteers, others are provided by the government or local businesses.

Cry of desperation

The loss of so many children from a single school has turned this into a national disaster. Everyone wants to help or show sympathy. But there is still plenty of grief, anger, and sheer disbelief that such a calamity could have happened here.

One group of families announced they would drive back to Seoul and protest outside the Blue House, the official presidential palace. They were confronted by police halfway across Jindo.

They screamed abuse at the police, demanding that the government speed up the recovery operation.

"Bring back our children's bodies before they decompose," shouted one woman. A cry of desperation, from one parent who now accepts her child will not be coming back.

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