‘Sincere Wishes,’ Fading Hope in South Korea Season of Grief

“Our sincere wishes for the safe return of Danwon students” reads the sign, with a photo of hands clasped in prayer, on the door of a shop on one of Seoul’s busiest shopping streets.

As hope fades for 256 still missing four days after the ferry Sewol capsized and sank, what may be South Korea’s worst maritime tragedy in four decades has cut short K-Pop concerts, marathons and flower festivals, turning spring into a season of grief, and fear.

“I’m terrified after seeing the ship sinking with so many students aboard,” said Son Moo Rie of Seoul, who said she is reluctant to let her daughter join 5th-grade classmates at Galsan Elementary School on a three-day field trip to the mountains. “I really hope the school cancels the trip.”

Gyeonggi Province, home of Danwon High School, where 250 mostly 17-year-old students are among the dead and missing, has canceled 45 cultural and sports events, and postponed or cut back dozens of others. Jeju, the resort island destination of the Danwon students, postponed its annual sports day “indefinitely,” the provincial government said.

There were tears in a congregation of about 400 during Easter Sunday services at Seoul Dream Church in the capital’s Hannam-dong district today, which canceled all celebrations and other events, including a party set to mark Children’s Day on May 5.

“It could have been prevented,” said Kim Hyun Jeong, a 45-year-old mother of two, who attended the service with her daughter, who’s in the first year of high school. “It’s a human-made disaster and it could have happened to my own kid.”

Prayers for the victims of the ferry sinking were said at Onnuri Community Church in Yongsan, Seoul, while the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the nation’s biggest, asked temples and members to refrain from singing or dancing during ceremonies held prior to Buddha’s Birthday on May 6, according to a statement posted on the order’s website.

Figure skating queen Kim Yuna delayed indefinitely a photo session at South Korea’s mint to mark the release of commemorative medals for her retirement from competition.

The Lotte Group canceled a weekend concert series by K-pop stars 2PM and other groups and has shut down promotions for the debut of Kloud beer by its liquor business.

Marathons planned in Seoul, sponsored by New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., and in Busan, sponsored by Adidas AG, have been put off while the search for victims continues, according to notices on the website of New Balance and the Facebook page of Adidas.

CJ E&M Corp., a media content provider, won’t air disaster movies on film channels OCN and Channel CGV and canceled several programs on other cable channels out of respect for the ferry tragedy, according to an e-mailed response to a Bloomberg query. SNL Korea, a local spin-off of the U.S. program Saturday Night Live, didn’t air on tvN, and today’s Ultimate Fighting Championship bout between Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne won’t be shown on Super Action.

The Korean Baseball Organization has asked teams to curtail indefinitely cheerleader appearances, amplified cheering and other celebrations during games. Seoul’s Doosan Bears team said on its website an autograph event has been canceled, and there will be no cheerleading at its games.

Samsung Everland, a theme park owned by the country’s largest conglomerate, canceled a three-day cherry blossom festival.

More than 600 divers are battling strong currents and poor visibility in their search for survivors. Authorities have said the chances of further rescues are “slim.”

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