S Korea ferry disaster: City strives to move on after Sewol

S Korea ferry disaster: City strives to move on after Sewol
People wait to enter a memorial altar for students among the missing passengers of a South Korean capsized ferry, in central Ansan on April 25, 2014.

This is the seventh instalment in series of articles on the upcoming local elections, exploring key issues and candidates in major cities. ― Ed.

Ansan, paralysed by the Sewol's sinking last month, is slowly recovering.

City buses full of half-asleep office-goers rushed along their routes during morning traffic hours on Wednesday. Cars honked. Secondary school students in uniforms walking to school joked and laughed amongst themselves. College students at Hanyang University's Ansan campus prepared for job interviews.

But the Sewol accident's ripples in the industrial city haven't disappeared altogether.

"I can still feel it," said Lee Rogers, a 47-year-old Australian who teaches English at Hanyang University in Ansan. "It certainly has been quieter."

About 70 survivors of the disaster visit the Korea University Medical Center in Ansan for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Economic activities remain in limbo, with sales in some local stores plummeting by 50 per cent according to owners and financial authorities in Seoul. Local cultural festivities have been cancelled. Thousands of yellow ribbons, symbolizing hope that those missing from the Sewol tragedy will return home safe, still flap on the streets.

And with the June local elections only a week away, Ansan mayor candidates said they would rescue the city.

The candidates said they would improve safety, set up mental health care centers, raise memorials for the Sewol victims, and bring back economic life to the town. The Sewol has dominated the campaign.

The latest voter surveys showed the three main candidates for the Ansan mayor's office were neck-and-neck. The ruling Saenuri Party's Cho Bin-ju and independent candidate Kim Chul-min scored 30.6 and 27.1 per cent ratings, respectively, while the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy's Je Jong-geel received a 26.1 per cent approval rating among surveyed voters. Real meter, an opinion surveyor, and a local daily conducted the polls on May 19 among 502 Ansan citizens.

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