South Korea ferry disaster: In the school, sombre silence and occasional sobs

Letters are pictured on the door of a locked classroom at Danwon High School where missing students are enrolled in Ansan on April 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP  
Letters are pictured on the door of a locked classroom at Danwon High School where missing students are enrolled in Ansan on April 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP  

ANSAN, South Korea (REUTERS) - "Change your thoughts and you change your world," reads a quotation hanging in the corridors of Danwon High School, where almost 250 students and teachers are still missing from a South Korean ferry that capsized on Wednesday.

The short phrase from minister and author Norman Vincent Peale had been the school's quote of the week for early April, when 339 students and their teachers embarked on a regular school trip to the popular holiday island of Jeju.

Fourteen students and teachers from the school have been found dead and 247 are still missing in what looks like being South Korea's worst maritime accident in 21 years in terms of lives lost.

The others have been rescued.

With over 48 hours passed since the ferry capsized, hopes that any more survivors will be found are fading in this high school in Ansan, an industrial town on the outskirts of Seoul that is home to factory workers and middle class commuters.

Friends and family sit in a stuffy gym hall, where a large projector shows live news coverage of the accident scene. Others sleep, sprawled out on chairs.

The occasional sound of sobbing from the toilets echoing down the corridor is the only thing to break the quiet, sombre atmosphere.

"When I first received the call telling me the news, at that time I still had hope," said Ms Cho Kyung Mi, who was waiting for news of her missing 16 year-old nephew.

"And now it's all gone."

"They should have rescued the children on the day it happened. What are they doing now? Three days have passed! They must be so cold and scared, deep underwater," she said.

At the school gates, South Korean Red Cross teams and local volunteers were handing out water and snacks to friends and relatives of the missing students. South Korean telecom companies have set up free phones to call those who have travelled down to the site of the capsized ferry.

In the classrooms of the missing, fellow students have left messages on desks, blackboards and windows, asking for the safe return of their missing friends.

"If I see you again, I'll tell you I love you, because I haven't said it to you enough," reads one.


Rescue divers searching for survivors have encountered difficulties navigating deep, silty waters and strong currents.

But for some, the smallest signs of progress are an encouraging sign. "I feel like I finally found a thread of hope to hold on to," said Ms Kim Yang Eun, an alumni of the school looking for news of her friend, referring to attempts by the divers to reach the stricken vessel.

"I need nothing else but her safe return so that we can go back to our ordinary daily lives," she said.

The school of almost 1,400 students has been closed until April 23 to allow pupils to stay at home or wait with the families and friends of the missing.

"He loves his mother so much, he doesn't have his father, his mother raised him alone," said Ms Cho, the aunt waiting for her missing nephew.

"All I can do is pray."

South Korea ferry sinking graphic

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