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Asia

South Korean islanders fear another attack

Most of the residents of Yeonpyeong Island have fled since they were caught up in the middle of a firefight between the two Koreas last week. Those who stayed behind are worried the North could attack again.

Many of the 1,600 residents of Yeonpyeong have fled since last week's attacks

Many of the 1,600 residents of Yeonpyeong have fled since last week's attacks

Loudspeakers around the island blast announcements telling residents that they should come to the community center if they want to be evacuated and go to the mainland. However, most of the 1,600 residents of the island have already left.

At the community center, district director Choi Cheol Young tells me that the people who stayed behind did so either because they have no means to support themselves off the island or because they were too old to take the two-hour ferry ride to Incheon, the closest port.

Choi says the decision to stay or go is ultimately up to the residents. "We do not encourage anyone to leave the island and go to Incheon. But if they stay, we support them administratively and also provide them with food," he explains.

Reduced to rubble

Just from walking around some of the areas that were damaged by North Korea's shelling last week, it is easy to see why so many of Yeonpyeong’s residents took off.

In one alleyway, there is broken glass everywhere. Several buildings have completely collapsed in on themselves and others were gutted by fire.

Ahn Gwang-hun says he will not leave the island as he has things to do such as make kimchi

Ahn Gwang-hun says he will not leave the island as he has things to do such as make kimchi

Just one block away is the home of 51-year-old fisherman Ahn Gwang-hun. He and his wife are washing cabbage to make kimchi.

The military restrictions mean that he cannot take his boat out to sea. "We were actually making kimchi when the attack happened. However, we are not ready to leave the island, there are still many things we need to do here," he says.

Prefabricated houses to replace destroyed homes

While fishermen cannot work, engineers are busy trying to get the island’s utilities back up and running. There are electric crews up on telephone polls, running new power lines in neighborhoods damaged during the attack.

One electrician tells me that all the repair work is almost done. In what was the playground for Yeonpyeong's elementary school, construction crews are putting together small fabricated houses.

"We are building 15 temporary houses for the people whose homes were completely destroyed during the North Korean attack, explains the manager Kim Sam Yeol.

"When they return to the island they will have a place to stay while they reconstruct their own houses."

A South Korean marine in Yeongpyeong

A South Korean marine in Yeongpyeong

However, he adds that he doesn’t know when that will be. Some are not even sure if they will come back at all but Choi Cheol Young is optimistic: "This island has a long history and I do not think it will ever be completely abandoned. But the government will have to help encourage the people to move back to it."

It is likely to take more than just government help to encourage residents to return as many are worried that North Korea will strike again. After two civilians were killed last week, many locals realize this was no longer just a military fight.

Park Myung Jae, a resident of an adjacent island that was also shelled during the attack, has come from Incheon to check on his home and then turn back around.

"I don’t know when it will become peaceful enough for me to return to my home." he says. "Over the years North Korea has made many attacks near the island. I think the government should have had more missile or soldiers stationed here, they failed to stop this attack from happening."

Author: Jason Strother
Editor: Anne Thomas

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