A floral tribute to the children who drowned in a sinking South Korean ferry displays photographs of the victims in their school uniforms, while lines of empty spaces wait to be filled with photos once those still missing are confirmed dead.
The pictures, flowers and spaces are banked up the entire wall of a gymnasium near Danwon High School in Ansan, on the outskirts of Seoul.
“There are too many pictures, way more than I thought,” crying university student Jung Sun-a, 24, said. “And they are too young in these pictures. I really hope they can fulfil their dream in the next life. And I hope the missing kids will also come back to their parents as soon as possible.”
One wailing old woman shouted out for her granddaughter, Lee Bomi.
“Bomi is still in darkness. She hasn’t come home yet. What are we going to do? I came here to ask you. She is still in dark waters. What am I supposed to do,” the woman said.
The Sewol ferry sank on a routine trip from the port of Incheon to the southern island of Jeju. Investigations are focused on human error and mechanical failure.
More than 300 people, most of them students and teachers from Danwon High School have died or are missing and presumed dead after the disaster on Wednesday last week. The confirmed death toll yesterday was 185, with 117 people unaccounted for.
Visiting US President Barack Obama gave South Korean President Park Geun-hye the US flag that flew over the White House on the day of the disaster.
“I just want to express on behalf of the American people our deepest sympathy for the tragic loss,” Obama told her. “We join in mourning the loss of the missing, especially so many young people.”
Meanwhile, dive teams yesterday raced to pull more than 100 bodies from the ferry as storm clouds loomed and the victims’ families angrily pressed officials to wrap up the recovery effort.
Although all hope of finding survivors has been extinguished, there is still anger and deep frustration among the relatives over the pace of the recovery operation off the southern island of Jindo.
Gentle tides and good weather have helped the dive teams in recent days, but the search conditions inside the ferry are still challenging and rescuers are only managing to retrieve about 30 bodies a day.
The bereaved families have said they want all the remaining bodies removed from the ferry before the weekend — a demand that is unlikely to be met, especially with a bad weather front moving in.
“We know that weather conditions will worsen considerably and currents will become stronger from Saturday,” a coast guard spokesman told a press briefing.
On Thursday evening, a group of irate parents stormed into the Jindo office of the deputy head of the South Korean coast guard and roughly manhandled him down to the harbor.
He was kept there most of the night, sitting on the ground, along with coast guard chief Kim Seok-kyun and South Korean Marine Minister Lee Ju-young, while the relatives accused them of lying about the recovery operation and demanded more resources.
Police made no move to intervene and the three made no attempt to get away, reflecting a reluctance to antagonize the relatives at a time of widespread public anger over the official response to the disaster.
As part of their widening probe, prosecutors yesterday issued travel bans on eight current and former executives of the Korea Register of Shipping — the body responsible for issuing marine safety certificates.