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Korean crisis: Can Yeonpyeong fishermen cope in suburban Seoul?

A month after North's shelling, Yeonpyeong residents face uncertain future far from home.

The government and evacuees have had trouble agreeing on compensation for the damage from the attack and a plan for the future of the island and its people.

Residents are asking for state provision of everything required to resettle on the mainland, including permanent housing and a sustained source of income. Most Yeonpyeong residents’ skills and employment experience are not easily transferable to the competitive job market on the mainland.

They will be unable to resume fishing until the situation is deemed stable. If the island’s small population is split between those who return and those who stay away, fisherman may have no customers to purchase their goods.

Of the island's original 1,400 residents, fewer than 100 remain on the island. A small number is staying in studio apartments provided by Incheon city government, the metropolis next to Seoul.

The government has said it will only provide a lump sum payment of $3,500 to adults and $1,760 to those under 18.

Private companies have donated essential items. During the afternoon, residents stood in groups waiting to be issued space heaters, slippers and undergarments.

Park Jang-hoon stood outside in a dignified posture with his hands behind his back as he waited for government-issued bags used to dispose of garbage. He wore the kind of dark colored, heavy jacket and boots commonly worn by fishermen. The skin of his face was weathered with age and exposure to the elements.

“This isn’t a place to stay for any length of time. At home I had work and a routine, but here I don’t have that. I’m not living as a human should. All I do is sit around waiting for supplies,” said Park.

Some, like Park, don’t have a home to return to. His house came under direct fire, “It’s too much for words. Our entire home was destroyed.”

The attack destroyed 29 houses and damaged 80. The reconstruction of destroyed houses will be supported by the government: owners of unlivable dwellings will receive $7,940; damaged homes will garner $3,970.

South Korea's government was sharply criticized for a timid response to the North's aggression and officials have since stepped up their tough talk. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has pledged to turn Yeonpyeong and the other four South Korean Yellow Sea islands into “fortresses.”

Ahn Hae-seong worked in construction until the evacuation. He had spent his whole life on Yeonpyeong. He sat away from the clumps of people waiting for supplies smoking a cigarette earlier this month.

He said the people of Yeonpyeong need more than an expanded military presence. “We didn’t do anything and they attacked us. That’s the scariest thing,” Ahn said.

He continued, “I don’t think we really need more of the military. The attack has already happened, we were already hurt, what good is it now? We need more than that.”