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[Ferry Disaster] Finding the hero within us

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Published : 2014-04-25 22:20
Updated : 2014-04-25 22:30

A bouquet of flowers left at Paengmok Port on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, Friday. (Yonhap)
On Jindo Island, family members of passengers still missing from the April 16 sinking of the Sewol, a ferry with 476 people on board, shuttle back and forth between the indoor gymnasium that has become a temporary shelter and Paengmok Harbor, where the recovered bodies are brought from the accident site.

A thousand thoughts must run through the minds of family members during the 30-minute ride to the harbor to identify what could be their loved one’s body. Wailing fills the air at Paengmok Harbor.

In Ansan, 340 kilometers northeast of Jindo Island, a heavy silence hangs over the city. More than 260 of its high school students and teachers are dead or presumed dead in one of Korea’s worst maritime disasters.

Black-and-white banners carrying condolence messages add to the somber mood. The usual loud music blaring onto the street from speakers at shops has been muted. The Starbucks near Jungang Station stopped playing music on the day of the accident and has been silent ever since.

The trees on the street leading from Danwon High School, the school that suffered the tragic loss, to the nearby Ansan Olympic Memorial Museum, where a large altar has been set up, have yellow ribbons tied around them, an expression of hope for the safe return of passengers still missing. Most of the people on the street are clad in black, the color of mourning.

The entire nation is in mourning, for burying one’s child is considered the worst of pains and we consider the 17- and 18-year-olds who perished to be like our own.

We ask how such a catastrophic failure could have taken place.

Investigations are underway to discover what caused the accident and why so many lives were lost. Parents are demanding to know why there was no immediate attempt to rescue the passengers who had been told to stay inside even as the captain and many of the crew fled the sinking vessel. Families are angry about the insensitive coverage by the media. The distrust of the government runs so deep that they demand to be at the scene of the rescue operations to watch the efforts being made to search for the missing.

The chain of events that led to the tragic loss of lives may have been preventable had the crew and the responsible authorities been doing what they were tasked to do.

In these difficult days, we may yearn for a superhero, someone who can swoop down and wipe out all the evils in the world. Alas, there is no such superhero: Each of us should discover the superhero within us, legions of Captain Koreas to set right what is wrong.

The soul-searching will be arduous and uncomfortable, yet we owe it to our children to rise above the pain and become heroes.

By Kim Hoo-ran, Senior writer (khooran@heraldcorp.com)

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