After North Korean attack, South Korean island empties out
After North Korean artillery showered this island in the Yellow Sea Tuesday, locals say they're fearful of North Korea's latest threats of a peninsula 'on the brink of war.'
Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea
In Pictures North Korean attack
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People picking through the rubble for whatever they can carry before rushing to the last ferry of the day look back on their lives here with nostalgia.
“I’m very sorry to leave my hometown,” says homemaker Choi In-young. “Once it was paradise, now it’s hell."
Ms. Choi was inside her home when artillery shells from across the eight miles of water between this island and North Korean coastline, easily visible on the skyline roared into the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon. “All the windows in my home were knocked out,” she says. “My home is still safe, but I saw smoke from houses around me.”
For most of Yeonpyeong’s 1,700 residents, the island provided a comfortable living that few on the mainland 40 miles to the east would imagine. Many made small fortunes off the crab that are plentiful in the Yellow Sea, especially at the height of the crabbing season in June. Now the number of inhabitants has dwindled to the 20 or so who refuse to leave.
Related security update: North Korea says on 'brink of war' as US, South Korea prepare for military exercises
'Not possible' to live here anymore
Choi Seng-il, head of a citizens’ committee, doubts if more than a handful will want to come back in view of naval exercises starting Sunday in which the US aircraft carrier USS George Washington is leading an American strike force into the Yellow Sea for four days.
“The weather is getting cold, and our houses were destroyed,” he says. “We decided it’s not going to be possible to live here.”
At a restaurant where the North Korean coastline – and North Korean gunners – are within easy sight, a row of charred barstools in front of a scorched counter reminds a visitor of the good times enjoyed until Tuesday.
Nearby, a narrow street of shattered shops and homes is strewn with shards of blasted glass, twisted walls, and broken roofs.
“I was in my house when the shelling began,” says 80-year-old Chae Suu-yong, grabbing a few pieces of clothing and sticking them into a shopping bag before returning to the daily ferry to Incheon. “We fled to a shelter. We don’t plan to go back.”
Mr. Chae has no doubt the North Koreans mean it when they say the Korean peninsula is “on the brink of war” and more attacks are inevitable.
“The North Koreans will attack again,” he says. “We are really afraid to live here.”
The threat of a repeat attack
For a few minutes Friday afternoon, the fears of a repeat attack seemed to have been confirmed when ears perked up and people dived for cover at the distant sound of artillery shells.