Residents desert remote S-Korean island turned war zone

Last Updated: Thursday, November 25, 2010 - 22:07

Yeonpyeong Island: Grim-faced soldiers
trudged through broken glass and blackened debris on Thursday on a
remote South Korean fishing and garrison island that became a
war zone this week.

The calm of the craggy outpost of Yeonpyeong was
shattered Tuesday when North Korea unleashed a barrage of
rockets and shells that killed four people and sent most of
its terrified residents fleeing for the mainland.
Two days on, lost dogs roamed through charred ruins in
search of food, shattered glass sparkled on the eerily
deserted streets, and an abandoned children`s pram bore
testimony to the hasty departure of one panicked family.

The atmosphere was tense, with rifle-toting troops from
the frontline island`s military bases and coastguard officers
patrolling streets, while a small flotilla of patrol boats was
anchored in choppy waters.

Half a dozen marines were bracing against the piercing
cold wind, boiling water on a small fire of tree branches at a
coastal military base from where, on a clear day, they can see
the coast of North Korea.

Company commander Captain Kim Jung-Soo recalled how the
troops were carrying out the exercise on Tuesday which North
Korea says provoked its attack, despite the fact the South
Koreans fired south, away from North Korea.

"We were doing firing drills here until 2:30 pm, and
right after then artillery shells started flying this way,"
the captain said, pointing at their anti-aircraft gun which
was badly mangled in the blast.
Two marines still wore helmets that were scorched in the
explosion.

The attacks -- the first shelling of civilians since the
1950-53 Korean War -- also hit administrative offices, a
police station and several homes, knocked out electricity to
half the population and started forest fires.

"Thank God the shells didn`t reach the pre-school and
elementary school," where children were studying at the time,
said coastguard Jo Young-Hyun.

In the island`s village, lines of soldiers passed along
boxes of bottled water, candy and fruits being unloaded from
boats as messages bellowing from loudspeaker urged the
remaining residents to leave the island.

Most of the island`s almost 2,000 inhabitants have
already fled, leaving behind day-to-day items in their haste,
such as clothes on washing lines and vegetables waiting to be
fermented into kimchi, the national delicacy.

But Shin Yoo-Taek, 71, who was born on the island, said
he was staying.

He said when the attack came he had just gone to the
marine barracks to pick up leftover food for his dozens of
pigs.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, November 25, 2010 - 22:07

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