South Korea, stunned by a ferry disaster involving hundreds of schoolchildren, has gone into shocked limbo with political campaigns suspended, TV shows and concerts cancelled and vigils held to register grief at the unfolding tragedy.
The 6825-tonne ferry carrying 475 people, mostly high school students on a school trip, sank off the country’s southwest on Wednesday.
So far, 28 bodies have been recovered and more than 260 people are still missing, with search efforts making little progress.
As images of victims and distraught families fuelled the nationwide mood of despair, major TV stations stopped airing dozens of prime-time soap operas and popular entertainment shows – especially any involving music and dance.
They were replaced with special news coverage of the accident or documentaries.
“This is no time for laughter or joy,” Han Kyung-Chun, a producer at KBS TV station, told the Daily Sports newspaper. “We plan to mourn the victims in as sombre a mood as possible.”
The country’s two main parties imposed a temporary ban on political campaigning related to critical local elections in June.
Companies cancelled social business events, while provincial governments indefinitely suspended planned festivals, concerts and firework shows.
Dozens of K-pop stars and actors postponed the scheduled release of new albums, or cancelled concerts and promotional events.
SM Entertainment – the country’s top music agency – has indefinitely suspended the planned release next week of the new album by its top boyband, EXO.
“The decision was made to mourn the victims and to pray for the missing to return safely,” the company said in a statement.
The country’s three beer brewers – Lotte, Oriental Brewery and Hite Jinro – pulled their party-oriented TV commercials.
Professional baseball and soccer teams kept cheerleaders off the pitch, and toned down the amplified music used to pump up the crowds.
South Korea’s largest Buddhist order on Thursday launched a nationwide prayer meeting at its 2500 temples for the safe return of the missing.
“We express our deepest regret and grief over the tragic incident,” the Jogye Order that claims 10 million followers among South Korea’s 50 million population said in a statement.
Of the 475 people on board the ferry when it capsized, 352 were high school students from Ansan city, which lies just south of Seoul.
Hundreds of students and parents held a tearful vigil in the school on Thursday night, holding out paper messages such as “Don’t lose hope” and “I miss your smile” – illuminated by the smartphones they held up to the sky.
Other candle-lit vigils by civic groups are planned in several cities including the capital Seoul.