Fearing More Clashes, South Korean Islanders Take Refuge As military drills between the U.S. and South Korea go forward, residents of Yeonpyeong island have sought shelter at a spa complex on the mainland. But they are anything but relaxed.
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Fearing More Clashes, South Koreans Take Refuge

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Fearing More Clashes, South Koreans Take Refuge

Fearing More Clashes, South Koreans Take Refuge

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

In South Korea today, the nation mourned the deaths of two Marines killed by a North Korean artillery barrage earlier this week. Two civilians also died. The North issued a rare near apology, saying if there were civilian deaths, they were, quote, "very regrettable." People who fled the island where the attack occurred are being housed at a spa complex in Incheon on the mainland.

Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao visited some of them.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: A small naked child and his mother walk past at Inspa World. It's a five-floor waterpark, with a swimming pool, saunas, a gym and a restaurant. But few people here are taking advantage of these facilities.

(Soundbite of noise)

XAYKAOTHAO: They're all crowded in the spa's main hall, sleeping on thin mats, still wearing the clothes they wore when they fled the island five days ago.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

XAYKAOTHAO: It's very warm, but people want the comfort of their winter coats, so they wear them, lying down. The people cover just about every inch of the floor. Many are visibly ragged from lack of sleep, and most are irritated that journalists want to ask about what comes next. For now, we don't ask questions; instead, we listen and watch, for hours.

(Soundbite of video games)

XAYKAOTHAO: Kids play video games; some run wild, unattended by parents, roaming the spa complex. Adults watch Korean dramas on TV. Some look at the evening news. It's a special about the funeral of the two Marines killed in this week's attack.

(Soundbite of music)

XAYKAOTHAO: YTN state television broadcasts images of a relative mourning one of the civilians killed by North Korea's artillery shells.

(Soundbite of woman crying)

XAYKAOTHAO: But you don't have to watch television to see the tears, they're right here in this hall.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Korean spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: The wife of a military officer still stationed on Yeongpyeong Island starts to talk, but asks us not use her name.

Unidentified Woman #2: Tomorrow the Korea-U.S. military exercise will begin. And I talked to my husband today on the phone and he told me that I should be attentive to news, and prepare for every possibility of another attack. I felt like today's call was like the last call.

XAYKAOTHAO: But for this 74-year-old grandmother, who also wished not to be named, there's only anger.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Through translator) I'm angry because it's not the only time North Korea charged us. And there's tons of ships sinking and before that there's clashes between North and South Korea - in Yeongpyeong - around Yeongpyeong Island.

XAYKAOTHAO: Near the kids' area, inside a togulbang, a small capsule-like room lit in red, 12 year-old Shin Eung-ho is eating a slice of pizza and describing what he does late at night with other children.

Mr. SHIN EUNG-HO: (Through translator) We talk that the incident was very scary. And it's first time that we ever experienced that kind of incident, so we're just thinking that it was like a dream.

XAYKAOTHAO: Asked what he needs or wants right now, he says...

Mr. EUNG-HO: (Through translator) I don't want anything. I just want to go back home.

XAYKAOTHAO: But Dean Park(ph), the director of Inspa World says that may not happen right away.

Mr. DEAN PARK (Director, Inspa World): The United States Army and Korean Army join training tomorrow, starting. But the North Korea's warning, if you training again, we bombing again. Tomorrow, we very worried tomorrow.

XAYKAOTHAO: The training lasts four days. North Korea warns that if South Korea and the U.S. violate its sovereignty, it will turn the South into a sea of fire.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Incheon, South Korea.

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