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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

We're going to begin this hour in South Korea with a high-profile resignation. The country's defense minister has stepped down two days after a North Korean artillery attack killed four people on a South Korean island. The defense chief had come under intense criticism for what was seen as a slow military response to that attack.

Now, as North Korea warned of more attacks, residents trickled back today to the island of Yeonpyeong to collect their belongings, and NPR's Louisa Lim was there.

LOUISA LIM: Returning home is not a decision Kim Hae-jeong(ph) is taking lightly. On board the ferry, she cradled her four-month-old baby daughter. The whole family is going back for a few hours against her better judgment to collect essentials for the baby.

Ms. KIM HAE-JEONG: (Through Translator) I was reluctant to go to the island today because no one could take care of my baby. Rather than my husband going alone, I'd rather we all went together. If we're going to die, I'd rather we die together.

LIM: So we're arriving on the island now and just walking out along the pier. It's full of army guys wearing bullet-proof vests. Security is extremely tight here.

The Kim family truck is waiting at the pier and they drive towards their home. Yeonpyeong was once a sleepy fishing village, albeit in a frontline position. Now it's become a war zone. Some houses were intact, others have had their roofs blasted off and have been gutted by fire. There's broken glass underfoot, and above all, an atmosphere of pure undiluted fear.

(Soundbite of horns)

Trucks loaded with possessions zoom past. The only topic of conversation is what time the last ferry of the day is leaving. Most of the village's 1,200 residents have, it appears, decided en masse to flee.

As a chopper flies overhead, village doctor Park Seung-chol(ph) says everyone is suffering.

Dr. PARK SEUNG-CHOL: (Through Translator) People are traumatized here, even us health care professionals. We have that kind of anxiety. When we hear a little sound, we jump, and everybody on the island is the same.

LIM: Dr. Park is a reluctant holdout. He'd like to leave but that's not an option. He's chosen to work here as an alternative to military service so he has to stay on. He's working to set up a new medical center after the original one was damaged. It's one of the public buildings that villagers believe was targeted by the North Koreans along with the marine base. Dr. Park describes how it felt being under attack.

Dr. PARK: (Through Translator) People talk about a first and a second wave of attacks but I felt like there was constant bombing. And people were coming to see me to get treatment for injuries caused by flying debris.

LIM: As the ferry sets off back to the mainland, it's packed full of refugees. They slump on their seats, exhausted from terror and uncertainty. Although their island home is just eight miles from North Korea, few imagined this day would come.

Sixty seven-year-old Shin Sun-ja(ph) has lived in the village six decades. She's finding it hard to come to terms with what she's lost.

Ms. SHIN SUN-JA: (Through Translator) I'm a farmer and I planted 700 cabbages this year, so I'd like to go back. But my house is next to the marine base and it was destroyed. Everything is gone. My car is damaged. I only have the clothes I'm wearing.

LIM: Despite watching the wall-to-wall news coverage of their plight, few of the victims of the attack are angry. Instead, there's shell-shocked incomprehension. One villager summed up the problem, saying the North Koreans are our brothers and our enemies. That's a contradiction most South Koreans have yet to square.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Seoul.

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