News Wrap: Hundreds missing after South Korea ferry disaster


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GWEN IFILL: Grief settled over South Korea today, after a ferry disaster at sea. Hundreds of high school students were on board the vessel that capsized and sank. Officials confirmed six deaths, but 290 others were still missing many hours later.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER: In the Yellow Sea, a few miles off South Korea’s rocky coast, the 150-meter-long, 6,000-ton ferry the Sewol has capsized in 30 meters of water, on board, 459 passengers, among them more than 300 teenagers en route to a school field trip on a volcanic island in the south.

The ferry had sailed through the night after leaving Incheon near the capital, Seoul. It rolled and sank in two hours flat. As the news breaks, distraught moms and dads converge on the high school. Inside, they’re scouring the white board for names. There’s confusion. At first, the school said all the students were safe. But they weren’t.

JUNG KYEONG-MI, Mother of shipwrecked student (through interpreter): I feel like my heart stopped. I can’t describe it in words. I’m too shocked. Even the word shocked doesn’t describe how I feel.

JONATHAN MILLER: Conflicting commands on board led to chaos, it seems. Some stayed put, as instructed. Others donned life vests and jumped into the cold sea. They were the survivors.

Below deck, a terrified teenager films this. ”The water is rising, the water is rising,” she screams.

Others are on their smartphones. A daughter texts her dad: “The ferry is tilted too much. I can’t move. It would be even more dangerous if I tried.” Her father pleads with her to get outside. “No, dad, I can’t get out right now,’ she says. “The ferry is at too much of an angle to walk.”  We don’t know if that was their last communication.

These pictures illustrate her plight. They were posted on YouTube, filmed aboard the listing ship. At 09:27, half-an-hour after the ship sent its first distress call, a son texts his mother: “Mum, in case I don’t get the chance to speak to you, I’m leaving you this message. I love you.”

Apparently, oblivious to the unfolding disaster, she responds, “Why?” then adds: “Me too, son. I love you.”

In other messages, this time exchanged between students on board, one writes: “I really love you all,” and continues, “I think we’re really going to die.”

Fished from the cold water, scared and confused, those who had abandoned ship were asked what had happened.

“There was an announcement to tell us to sit still, but the ferry was already sinking,” this student said, adding he was worried about his friends still trapped aboard.

Survivors huddled and hugged in the sports center nearby, hearts broken. Mystery surrounds the capsize. It’s possible the Sewol hit submerged rocks or a reef. Survivors all describe a sharp jolt. A huge and frantic search-and-rescue operation is still under way. Navy divers battling strong currents and poor visibility have entered the upturned hull hoping for air pockets.

Perhaps it’s false hope, for, tonight, the mood is somber, the captain under police investigation.

GWEN IFILL: More tragedy back in the U.S. In Washington State, 40 days after a wall of mud all but wiped out a small town, the death toll rose to 39, with seven people still missing. The slide buried dozens of homes in the tiny community of Oso, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Teams are still probing the debris.

Lawyers for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing were in federal court today, trying to lift prison restrictions on their client. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged in the explosions at the marathon’s finish line last year. He wants the judge to bar the FBI from monitoring visits with his sisters. Tsarnaev faces more than 30 counts in the deaths of three people and injuries to more than 260 others.

In a new online video, the al-Qaida wing in Yemen is vowing to attack the United States. The video shows hundreds of fighters and supporters celebrating a mass prison break in the Yemeni capital back in February. The leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, is seen addressing the crowd and then calling for new attacks as the camera pans the gathering.

NASSER AL-WUHAYSHI, (through interpreter): The crusader enemy, dear brothers, still possesses cards which he moves around. We have to remember, dear brothers, that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the mother of infidels. We have to remove the cross, and the bearer of the cross, America.

GWEN IFILL: Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has made several attempts to attack the U.S. since 2009. But drone attacks have killed several of the group’s leaders, including Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric.

Tensions along Syria’s border with Jordan turned into open conflict today, as Jordanian warplanes destroyed a convoy of vehicles. The kingdom’s military said the camouflaged vehicles were in a rugged area near the border and refused orders to stop. Damascus insisted the convoy wasn’t part of the Syrian army.

A federal judge has struck down a North Dakota law that bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can come as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The judge ruled today the statute cannot survive a constitutional challenge. It was unclear if the state will appeal.

There’s hopeful news for the one in 10 Americans who suffer from diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control finds a sharp drop in heart attacks and strokes among diabetics. They’re down more than 60 percent over the last 20 years. The report appears in “The New England Journal of Medicine.” It attributes the drop mostly to better medicine and better care.

In economic news, the Federal Reserve says growth picked up across most of the country over the past two months; 10 of the Fed’s 12 regions reported increased activity. Also today, Fed Chair Janet Yellen reaffirmed plans to keep interest rates low. That helped boost Wall Street to another strong showing. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 162 points to close near 16,425. The Nasdaq rose 52 points to close at 4,086. And the S&P added 19 to finish at 1,862.

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