Grief and anguish continued to overwhelm the city of Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday as thousands of mourners visited a memorial altar for the victims of the ferry that sank off Korea’s southwestern coast on April 16.
The memorial altar was set up temporarily inside a gymnasium by the local government from Wednesday for six days to accommodate the large number of mourners. The official memorial altar and a memorial monument will be installed at a park in Ansan next Tuesday.
By the afternoon, more than 3,600 people had visited the temporary memorial altar.
Some 50 pictures of the victims were placed together with thousands of chrysanthemums on the memorial altar. Of these, the funerals of 25 of the teenager were held earlier in the day.
Photos of an additional 25 victims were added after individual funerals were held later in the day.
Two large television screens next to the flowers repeatedly displayed the names and pictures of the victims, many of them students from a single high school near Seoul.
A board near the entrance was covered with visitors’ messages of love and sorrow.
A number of politicians and celebrities visited to share their sorrow. Many visitors burst into tears in front of the photos of the victims.
“We should have saved the children. This is so heartbreaking,” said a 23-year-old college student who participated in an antisuicide program with Danwon High School students two years ago.
More than 14,000 condolence texts were delivered through a public phone line that the government set up for citizens unable to directly visit the memorial altar. Anyone can send a message by calling (010) 9145-8879.
Some high school students and civic groups volunteered to work at the memorial altar. One medical group set up a medical support booth to deal with emergencies.
Aside from the many Korean victims, five foreign passengers were also found to have boarded the ill-fated ferry Sewol, with two rescued and one missing.
One found on Monday was a 17-year-old Russian-Korean who was heading to Jejudo Island with his classmates from Danwon High School. Born to a Korean father and Russian mother, Serkov Vyacheslav Nikoayevich lived in Russia for a while to avoid the negative perceptions of multicultural families in Korea. Coming back in 2005, Nikoayevich dreamed of becoming a member of the national swimming team.
“My son loved swimming so much that he practiced for hours a day,” his 43-year-old father said. “He would have survived if the captain hadn’t ordered passengers to stay in their cabins,” he added in tears.
A 38-year-old Chinese man of Korean descent, Lee Do-nam, was also found dead on the same day.
Lee boarded the ferry with his 37-year-old fiancee for a holiday. Concerned about the bad weather, the couple initially tried to cancel the ferry trip right before departure, and asked the ferry operator to return their car from the cargo hold. The couple, however, was compelled to go aboard as the ferry operator was reluctant to withdraw the vehicle, citing the approaching departure time. Lee’s fiancee remains missing.
One 46-year-old Chinese victim was also found Monday, but was not listed on the official passenger list.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (email@example.com