JINDO, South Korea (AP) — The grim work of recovering bodies from the submerged South Korea ferry proceeded rapidly Wednesday, with the official death toll reaching 146, though a government official said divers must now rip through cabin walls to retrieve more victims.
The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol when it sank one week ago survived.
Even with more than 150 people still missing, the funeral halls in Ansan are already full, Oh Sang-yoon of the government-wide emergency task force center said in a statement. He said the center "is taking measures to accommodate additional bodies by placing mortuary refrigerators at the funeral halls in Ansan," and directing mourning families to funeral homes in nearby cities.
On Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the ferry are taken, descriptions of the dead are read over a loudspeaker. Relatives rush over to the main notice board and peered at details added by an official.
Some relatives cry out and run from the tent. Others stand red-eyed and shell-shocked.
The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel. But task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok the work is becoming more difficult, and divers must now break through cabin walls to retrieve more bodies.
"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments," Koh said.
Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry's crew survived, and 11 have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation. Two were arrested Wednesday, senior prosecutor Ang Sang-don said.
The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. On Tuesday, four crew members were arrested and another two were detained without arrest warrants.
The four crew members arrested Tuesday talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts and masks.
One said they tried to correct the ferry's listing early on but "various devices, such as the balance weight, didn't work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain's judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn't reach."
The captain has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck — where they would have had a greater chance of survival — without telling them to abandon ship.
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