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Islanders tell of terror as N.Korean shells land

By Lim Chang-Won

SEOUL, Tuesday 23 November 2010 (AFP) - Residents of a South Korean frontline border island described scenes of terror Tuesday as dozens of North Korean shells landed, killing one marine and injuring 13 others.

"Some time after our own military staged an artillery exercise, shells from the North started falling into our island," said Woo Soo-Woo, 62, a guest house owner on Yeonpyeong island near the flashpoint Yellow Sea border.

"Flashes along with a thundering sound were seen here and there across our villages and up to 10 houses were engulfed in flames. Black smoke billowed around houses," Woo told AFP by mobile phone from a ferry heading to Incheon port.

The shooting started bushfires at several places in the hills, he said.

"Frightened villagers rushed to nearby shelters while others were busy running away and crowded the port to escape."

Woo said some 1,500-1,700 civilians live on the island, along with a permanent marine detachment. He had no information on civilian casualties.

He said it was the first time he could remember North Korean shells falling on the island.

"I was at home but suddenly heard a thunderous sound outside. When I walked out, the whole village was on fire," another villager was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying.

"I'm at the evacuation site with other villagers and I am scared to death."

Another island resident, Lee Jong-Sik, told YTN television: "At least 10 houses are burning. I can't see clearly for the smoke. The hillsides are also on fire.

"We were told by loudspeakers to flee our homes for bunkers."

TV footage showed huge plumes of smoke rising from the seven square-kilometre (2.8 square-mile) island, which lies just south of the sea border drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North disputes the border and the area was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002. Yeonpyeong is only 12 kilometres (seven miles) from the North's coastline.

All electricity is out in the island and some of the hills have been set ablaze by the shells, said a spokesman for Incheon city, where ferries leave for the island.

"Fire is spreading into several hills because of some 50 shells fired from the North... we are monitoring the situation through surveillance cameras set up at the island," the city spokesman told AFP.

"All of the 1,600 island residents have been evacuated to bunkers and a minimum number of government officials are monitoring the situation at the county office," he said.

MySinchew 2010.11.23


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