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Families of Imjin Flood Victims Grapple With Pain

Posted December. 15, 2009 09:32,   


Woo-taek, the son of a man killed in the Imjin River flash flood in September caused by North Korea, reportedly scratched the tops of his feet until they bled.

He often scratched scars before they healed to cause more bleeding. He often woke up in the middle of the night asking for his father, who drowned in the river after the North abruptly and without warning opened floodgates at a dam by the river that caused a flash flood.

Woo-taek said he also has frequent dreams about fighting North Korean authorities, who opened the floodgates without notice, or South Korean officials, who failed to act in time to save his father.

“Woo-taek is full of rage,” the boy’s doctor said. “Woo-taek has been receiving therapy for his bad memories for a month now. To my relief, he’s at least sleeping well these days.”

His nine-year-old sister also never stops talking about their late father. When her therapist asks her when she misses her father the most,” she says, “Right now.”

A woman who lost both her husband and son in the flash flood said. “I left the photo I took with my husband on the table, but I cannot bring myself to look at the one I took with my son.”

She put her son’s belongings including his diary and toys deep inside her closet. One item she says she cannot take her eyes off is his taekwondo uniform. She has also kept all of his taekwondo belts from yellow, green and brown to blue, red and black.

With teary eyes, she said, “My relatives keep telling me to get rid of them but I just can’t. I’ll probably keep them forever.”

On the morning of the ceremony marking the 49th day of her father’s death, she broke down after her 12-year-old daughter said, “Dad came to me in a dream last night and took me to a steak restaurant.”

Lee Gyeong-hwa also lost her husband in the flash flood in September. Both had been classmates at elementary and middle school in their hometown of Cheongyang County, South Chungcheong Province.

Back in 2000, he visited his parents’ home for the Chuseok holidays and ran into Lee at their friend’s store. He then proposed to her and they were married Dec. 17 the same year. This year would have marked their ninth anniversary.

“He left home Saturday the day before the accident saying he would return soon safe and sound, but that was our last moment together. All the wives of the other victims never had the chance to say goodbye,” Lee said.

Reports say the bereaved families received compensation for their loss, but they claim to have received just part of the amount.

A court will hear the dispute over compensation Wednesday between the families and the (South) Korea Water Resources Corp. The corporation says the victims should not have been camping near the Imjin River, which is a restricted area at night, and wants to reduce the amount of damages for this reason.

A representative for the bereaved families, Lee Yong-ju, 48, said, however, “The victims would’ve survived had the corporation’s warning system worked. The corporation’s claim completely ignores the situation we widows are in being left to raise our children all alone.”