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South Koreans pray for miracles

Last updated on: April 17, 2014 14:05 IST

South Koreans pray for miracles

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The frantic search for nearly 300 people, most of them schoolchildren, missing after a South Korean ferry capsized has extended into a second day, as distraught relatives maintained an agonising vigil on shore.

Nine people, including five students and two teachers, were confirmed dead, but many expect a sharp jump in that number.

This is due to long period of time the missing have now spent either trapped in the ferry or in the cold seawater.

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Image: A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo cries as she waits for a rescue team's arrival at a port where family members of missing passengers gathered in Jindo
Photographs: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
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South Koreans pray for miracles

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There was also fury among families waiting for word of passengers who were mostly high school students.

There were 475 people aboard, and some of the frantic parents of the 325 student passengers who had been heading to Jeju island for a four-day trip gathered at Danwon High School in Ansan, which is near Seoul, and on Jindo, an island near where the ferry slipped beneath the surface until only the blue-tipped, forward edge of the keel was visible.

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Image: Members of the South Korean Navy search for missing passengers at the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of Jindo Island
Photographs: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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South Koreans pray for miracles

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Naval and coastguard vessels used floodlights and flares to keep the search operation going through Wednesday night, but strong currents and low visibility hampered diving teams' efforts to access the vessel in the hope of finding survivors trapped in air pockets.

"Honestly, I think the chances of finding anyone alive are close to zero," a coastguard official told media persons.

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Image: A relative weeps as she waits for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo port
Photographs: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
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South Koreans pray for miracles

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The coastguard said 179 people had been rescued, a figure little changed from the previous evening.

The tragedy has stunned a country whose rapid modernisation was thought to have consigned such large-scale accidents to the past.

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Image: South Korean Coast Guard and rescue teams search for missing passengers at the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of Jindo Island
Photographs: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
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South Koreans pray for miracles

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President Park Geun-hye voiced shock and pain at the "tragic" accident.

"Please do not give up until the very last moment," she said during a visit to the national disaster agency's situation room in Seoul late on Wednesday.

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Image: In this handout image provided by the Republic of Korea Coast Guard, the rescue work by members of the Republic of Korea Coast Guard continues around the site of ferry sinking accident off the coast of Jindo Island
Photographs: The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images
Tags: PHOTOS , Seoul

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South Koreans pray for miracles

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If the missing are confirmed dead it would become one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters -- all the more traumatic for the number of children involved.

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Image: A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17
Photographs: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

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South Koreans pray for miracles

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Meanwhile, there are theories beginning to emerge about how the ferry sank.

It most likely struck something in the water, said Peter Boynton, a retired US Coast Guard captain, told CNN.

"The speed with which this ferry began to list and then roll over on its side suggests significant damage, most likely causing major flooding that would cause a vessel of this size -- almost 500 feet long -- to quickly roll onto its side. That's very likely the result of significant damage," he said.

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Image: A relative weeps as she waits for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo port
Photographs: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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South Koreans pray for miracles

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Some of the rescued passengers report that when the ship began to sink, they were told to jump into the water immediately -- and not to take time to get into life boats.

Sometimes after a breach, as the water begins gushing in, "there's a sucking, there's a motion, that just makes it impossible to fight," Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the US Department of Transportation told CNN.

"So the order to abandon ship might have indicated that. ... It's almost like a suction that occurs when the water starts coming on, and you can't fight it."

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Image: In this handout image provided by the Republic of Korea Coast Guard, the rescue work by members of the Republic of Korea Coast Guard continues around the site of ferry sinking accident off the coast of Jindo Island
Photographs: The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images

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South Koreans pray for miracles

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More than 500 professional divers from South Korea's coast guard and navy, along with 29 aircraft and 169 vessels, have been deployed to locate the victims, according to the government's anti-disaster agency.

The rescuers, assisted by a private shipping company, also are preparing to lift the submerged ferry from the water, using three large crane barges and tow boats.

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Image: Rescue boats sail around the South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" which sank, during their rescue operation in the sea off Jindo
Photographs: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

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Survivors spoke of a loud thumping sound and then a sudden lurch by the boat to one side. "Students were tumbling in all directions," survivor Kim Hong-kyong, 58, told South Korea's Yonhap News.

Teams of divers searched the ship in relays as concerns rose that many of the passengers and crew may have been caught in the vessel as it rolled over. Only a small part of the bow of the ship remained above the waterline on Thursday.


Image: A family member of a missing passenger who was on South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank at sea, prays as she waits for news from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo
Photographs: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

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