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(LEAD) Grief overwhelms funerals for students killed in ferry disaster

All Headlines 16:58 April 23, 2014

(LEAD) ferry victims-funerals

Joint altar for ferry victims

(LEAD) Grief overwhelms funerals for students killed in ferry disaster
(ATTN: RECASTS lead, 4th paras; UPDATES with another funeral, visits to altar in last 15 paras)

ANSAN, South Korea, April 23 (Yonhap) -- A somber atmosphere filled the hall as a woman broke down next to a hearse carrying the body of a teenage girl who was killed in the sinking of the ferry Sewol off South Korea's south coast a week ago.

"Ah, my baby, where are you going? Grandma is here. Where are you going?" the woman said in between heavy sobs, grabbing onto the hearse as if she couldn't let go.

Family members, friends and teachers bowed their heads in silent tribute as the car left the funeral hall.

"Leaving is not a sad thing," they sang in tears during the girl's funeral service. "Let's meet again in heaven."

The girl was one of 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, just south of Seoul, who left on a school trip to the southern resort island of Jeju last week.

Less than a day later, on April 16, their ferry capsized off the southwestern island of Jindo, leaving hundreds dead or missing.

Of the 476 passengers aboard the 6,825-ton ferry, 150 were confirmed dead by Wednesday afternoon. More than 150 others remained unaccounted for, with most of them feared to be trapped inside the vessel.

The funeral hall in Ansan was just one of 11 places where funerals for a total of 25 Danwon students took place during the day.

In another funeral hall, 17-year-old Slava smiled brightly in the portrait placed on his memorial altar.

His South Korean father and Russian mother had gotten married after meeting for the first time in the southern port city of Busan in 1996, but the family had lived separately for the following 10 years due to negative local perceptions about multicultural families at the time.

Slava learned to speak Korean in addition to Russian and English, and recently gave up swimming to focus on his studies.

"Only two months ago, he said he would concentrate on his studies and told me to wait and see," the father said, apparently unable to finish his sentence.

Paying tribute to ferry victims

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140423004451315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Students pay tribute to victims of the sinking of Sewol in front of a temporary memorial altar built inside a gymnasium in Ansan, south of Seoul, on April 23, 2014. (Yonhap)'/>

By afternoon, many people were heading to a temporary memorial altar set up inside a gymnasium by the local government to pay their respects to the dead.

The altar was opened to the public earlier in the day.

"I don't know what to say," a Danwon student said after paying tribute in front of the portraits and nameplates of 22 victims -- both students and teachers -- who have already been buried. "Ever since the accident, I've just been following the news, and (today) I came here with my mother."

Two large screens mounted on either side of the altar flashed the photos and names of the victims.

One woman who said she was a kindergarten teacher said she heard about the altar's opening on the news and came to "see the children" before going to work.

Another woman said she delayed opening her shop in order to come to the altar because "it doesn't feel like someone else's business."

Among the visitors were also government officials, political leaders and celebrities.

Education Minister Seo Nam-soo said he feels "endless responsibility" as the minister in charge of students and vowed to provide as much support as possible with the concerns of the victims and their families in mind.

The government plans to open a larger altar at a park in Ansan next week at the request of the victims' families.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also ordered the government to build temporary altars across the nation in places with easy public access through consultations with the victims' families.


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