Thousands of mourners yesterday paid tearful respects at a temporary memorial to the hundreds of student victims of South Korea’s ferry disaster, as the grim search for bodies entered its second week.
The confirmed death toll stood at 150, but 152 passengers are still unaccounted for and their bodies are believed to be trapped in the inverted, submerged Sewol ferry that sank a week ago in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.
As the relatives of the missing began their daily vigil at the harbor on Jindo, where the recovered bodies are being brought, others converged on a temporary memorial to the victims in Ansan, 320km to the north.
Ansan has become a focal point of national mourning because it is home to the Danwon High School attended by 352 students who were on the Sewol when it sank along with a dozen of their teachers. Nearly 280 students are among the dead and missing.
The memorial was set up in an indoor sports stadium yesterday and comprises a giant altar in the form of a terraced bank of white, yellow and green chrysanthemums among which rest the framed photographs and names of students whose funerals have already taken place.
Above the floral wall hangs a large banner reading: “We pray for the souls of the departed.”
Clutching single white chrysanthemums handed out by volunteers, the mourners wept, bowed and prayed as they stood before the altar before placing the flowers below the students’ pictures.
As well as grief, there was also anger, with one woman railing tearfully against the authorities for not saving more people, while one large floral tribute carried a sash with the simple message: “I hate the Republic of Korea.”
North Korea, which has barely referenced the ferry disaster over the past week, sent its condolences yesterday via a Red Cross channel used for inter-Korean communications.
The message voiced sorrow that “so many passengers, including young students, died or went missing,” the South Korean Ministry of Unification said.
In Jindo harbor, the latest bodies recovered from the ferry were taken to a small tented village set up to manage the process of identifying the bodies. Each positive identification was marked by a piercing cry of anguished recognition and an outpouring of grief from the family members.
Sewol captain Lee Joon-seok and six crew members are under arrest with two other crew taken into police custody on Tuesday.