John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The massive response to the deadly accident is so bright that it shines like a little city.
A catastrophe as massive as the South Korean ferry accident deserves an equally outsized response. And indeed the search-and-rescue teams have been out in full force, creating a light signature so intense that in the night sky it looks like a small city.
Since last week, the sinking of the Sewol ferry – which at last count had claimed roughly 100 lives with 200 people still missing – has attracted a virtual armada of assisting vessels. Newly released satellite images from NASA and NOAA reveals the frenzied marine activity off the country's southwest coast (look for the white arrow). For a size comparison, the brightest grouping of lights at the top of the island below the ferry's location is Jeju City, population roughly 435,000:
Here's a closer look of the wreck site surrounded by a wide scattering of other vessels in the frigid Yellow Sea:
So what's out there in the water? There's the hulking Korean amphibious-assault ship visible in the background of the above photo, as well as reportedly a destroyer and a missile frigate and numerous smaller support units. Aircraft and helicopters are monitoring the scene, and three large cranes are in the vicinity should there be a need to lift the sunken vessel off the sea floor. People are shooting blinding flares into the sky. And though not visible from above, divers have penetrated the ship's pitch-black interior to retrieve numerous bodies, including many students and teachers from a high school near Seoul.
There's much anger in South Korea aimed at the crew of the ferry, who are alleged to have responded with "confusion and indecision" at the beginning of the incident. The country's president has now jumped into the fray, according to CNN:
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday likened the actions of the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry Sewol to murder, as police made more four arrests and divers continued searching the submerged vessel....
"The actions of the captain and some of the crew are absolutely unacceptable, unforgivable actions that are akin to murder," Park said Monday in comments released by her office. She said she and other South Koreans were filled with "rage and horror."
The latest arrests of crew members bring the total number detained to seven as authorities investigate what went wrong on the ship as it sailed toward a popular holiday island.
Top image: South Korean rescue team members work to save passengers believed to have been trapped in the sunken ferry Sewol near the buoys which were installed to mark the vessel in the water off the southern coast on Monday, April 21. (Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press). Other images courtesy of NASA / NOAA.