Hundreds Still Missing After South Korean Ferry Capsizes

Strong currents and rain are hampering rescuers in the search for more than 200 passengers missing after a ferry flipped onto its side and filled with water off the southern coast of South Korea.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And I'm Kelly McEvers.

At least nine people are dead and nearly 300 are unaccounted for off the southern coast of South Korea. Rescuers are battling high winds, choppy water and rain as they look for people thought to be trapped inside a ferry that capsized and sank yesterday. Many of the passengers were teenagers on a field trip.

We reached NPR's Anthony Kuhn earlier this morning after he had made his way to Jindo, the town closest to where the ferry went down. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hello, Kelly.

MCEVERS: You are down at the waterfront. I'm told rescue boats are coming and going and survivors are being brought to shore. Can you tell us what it's like down there right now?

KUHN: Well, it's very windy and rainy right here. And just down the shoreline from us are a lot of the students' parents and they are very confused and worried. A lot of them have been without food and without sleep. They're standing around wondering what to do as it gets dark and no more survivors have been brought in today.

The conditions are so bad that a lot of ships have had to come back to port and it looks like there's very little progress at the moment.

MCEVERS: We know that hundreds of ships and South Korean divers are involved in this operation. I mean how's it going? Is there any hope of finding people alive?

KUHN: Well, survivors who got off the boat say that there are still a considerable number of people trapped below decks in the many rooms of the ship and they're unable to get out. They were unable to get out because the thing went topsy-turvy and they were unable to exit from it. So rescuers are trying to pump air into the ship so that anyone who may have survived perhaps has something to breathe. But its very tough conditions for the rescuers working right now.

MCEVERS: And these parents of the students, you say, who are down there and tired and hungry, what are they saying?

KUHN: A lot of the parents and survivors have been brought onshore and taken to a gymnasium in town. Of course they're stricken with grief. They're also angry that at one point they were being told that most people were rescued. The next minute they were being told that most people were still missing. They're also angry that a lot of people were apparently told to stay on the boat and not abandon ship. They're also unhappy about media who they feel have intruded on their moment of grief.

Nationally I would say there's a sense of mourning going on. Entertainment has been curtailed. President Park Chung-hee is down here meeting with the families and going out actually to the submerged ship. And it's a very somber and difficult moment for everybody here.

MCEVERS: And so what more do we know about why the ferry capsized? The ship's captain actually survived. He's now being questioned. What do we know about it?

KUHN: The ship's captain made very remorseful remarks today. He said he was ashamed of what happened. He got off the ship fairly fast. There's a formal investigation going on right now into what went on. There have been reports that the ferry may have veered off its normal course. And of course many people heard a loud bang before the ship started to list to one side. It's still not clear exactly what the cause of this ship sinking was, whether it hit something or not.

MCEVERS: And we've heard some reports that people were told to stay on the boat. Are you hearing something about that from survivors?

KUHN: Yes, there have been a lot of text messages. There have been some video taken. There have been communications with people on the ship. And yes, apparently they were told to stay on board while people tried to keep the ship from listing.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's in Jindo, South Korea. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: You're welcome, Kelly.

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