INCHEON, South Korea - Cold and terrified, hundreds of residents of the South Korean island attacked by North Korea fled to the mainland on Wednesday, many vowing never to return to their homes.
At least two civilians and two soldiers were killed and dozens of houses burned in Tuesday's shelling, the Seoul government said, the heaviest attack in the Korean peninsula since the Korean War ended in 1953.
"I will not be going back," said Kim Ji-kwon, a 53-year-old who was working his fields on the island of Yeonpyeong when the shelling began. When he looked up, he said, he saw smoke billowing from his neighbourhood a few miles away.
"I've just left behind everything I owned."
Yeonpyeong, a small island just 120 km (75 miles) west of Seoul, is home to about 1,600 civilians and 1,000 soldiers. It lies in Yellow Sea waters claimed by the North but occupied by the South since the end of the war.
About 340 residents, mostly women, children and the elderly, were being evacuated by coast guard vessels on Wednesday after they spent a chilly, and sleepless, night at a makeshift air raid shelter, worried the shelling may resume.
There was no more shelling, but that was little consolation for Cho Soon-ae, who broke down in tears as she landed at the pier in the port city of Incheon, holding her young daughter.
"My house was burned to the ground," she said, as she walked from the boat in a large crowd of evacuees, a scene which for many Koreans was reminiscent of the desperate flight thousands undertook sixty years ago at the onset of the Korean war.
"We've lost everything. I don't even have extra underwear," Cho said, weeping. She said she had nowhere to go on the mainland, except a makeshift government shelter.
A few hundred people had also left the island on Tuesday, but many have chose to stay behind since the coast guard evacuations were voluntary.
The North is visible from Yeonpyeong, near the disputed maritime boundary between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea.
"You can see North Korea from the island. You can't see South Korea. But all these years, we never felt unsafe," said Byun Jong-myoung, who left the island years ago but was at the pier to meet his sister-in-law who was being evacuated.
"We plan to tell them that they should think about moving out of the island," he said of his brother's family.
Worst of all was the difficulty in understanding what was going on, said Kim Hoon-yi, who was visiting her parents-in-law on the island with her three-year-old in tow.
"Some people said it was war. Some said North Korea was invading. Some said it was our military's artillery that went off by mistake. But it was so big, the smoke and the fire, too widespread to be a mistake."
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