Jindo Island is being flooded with thousands of volunteers from across the country who have come to hold the hands, wipe the tears and share the pain of families still waiting for signs of their loved ones.
From college students and parents to foreign residents, volunteers have set up kitchens, supply centers and clinics outside of Jindo Gymnasium, which is serving as a shelter for the families, and at Paengmok Port, where they are waiting for the bodies of the victims.
Others have been washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and delivering fresh water for the families exhausted from the endless waiting. At the gym, others hold up pieces of paper asking whether they have clothes to be washed or carry bananas and packs of milk to feed family members who have hardly eaten out of despair. Volunteers silently move around, making their best efforts not to disturb the grief-stricken families. Authorities say more than 12,000 people have worked as volunteers in the town over the last eight days.
"I have a daughter who is also 17-years-old, the same as their daughters are … I just wanted to be here … which is the least I could do for them," said a woman interviewed by YTN, a local cable news channel.
Hopes are fading for a miracle as rescuers have not found a single survivor since the day the ill-fated ferry Sewol sank eight days ago. Divers have yet to find an air pocket on the third or fourth deck, where most of the passenger bedrooms and the ship's restaurant are located. As of Thursday afternoon, divers had retrieved 171 bodies, with 131 still missing.
As grief over the sinking has spread across the country, people have been sending supplies and asking how they can help. Boxes full of supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, paper cups and even clean underwear have reached to the town from students across the country, along with handwritten letters praying for their safe return.
Foreign volunteers have also arrived at the seaside town.
A group of 11 Turks living in Korea had set up a kebab kitchen in front of Jindo Gymnasium on Thursday. "We pray for the Sewol victims and for the safe return of the missing. From Turkey, your brother country," said a banner put up around the kitchen.
The Turkish volunteers said they wanted to stand by people suffering from the excruciating pain of losing family members in return for the compassion that Koreans showed back in 1999, when Turkey suffered from a deadly earthquake.
"Our families and friends in Turkey have been paying close attention to the sinking of the ferry Sewol," one Turkish volunteer was quoted as saying by Newsis, a local news agency. "I hope the families of the victims have not given up yet with this piece of kebab we prepared. We wish for a miracle to happen," he said.