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Volunteers struggle to save the beach that turned black

Thousands of troops and volunteers, such as these, struggled Sunday to clear a thick layer of pungent crude oil off South Korea's stricken southwest coast after the country's worst ever oil spill AFP Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan.
by Staff Writers
Mallipo Beach, South Korea (AFP) Dec 10, 2007
Using buckets, shovels and even dustpans, volunteers Monday battled to save one of South Korea's most pristine beaches from a relentless tide of oily sludge.

An army of police, troops and volunteers several thousand strong was labouring on Mallipo beach, even as the tide remorselessly deposited more and more crude oil onto the sand.

"I felt like crying. This was such a good place for my kids," said Kim Mi-Sook, a Salvation Army volunteer from nearby Seosan county, as she scooped up oil with a dustpan.

"The sand was so good, with flowers blooming here and there," she told AFP.

"The sludge was initially 50 centimetres (20 inches) high on the beach in some places. The waves could not get over it."

About 10,500 tons of crude oil leaked into the Yellow Sea when a drifting barge holed an oil tanker on Friday. The Coast Guard said the slick has already hit 50 kilometres (31 miles) of coastline including Mallipo and more was expected to wash ashore.

Helicopters hovered and mechanical diggers were busy on the beach, which had turned black apart from the cleaned areas.

Workers carried filled buckets to hundreds of big rubber tanks set up along the two-kilometre beach. A long line of tanker trucks emptied the tanks, while oily sand was bagged separately for disposal.

Everyone involved donned rubber boots and gloves and some wore face masks to avoid the stench of the crude oil.

"I think it may take more than 10 years to return the beach to normal," said volunteer Chae Gil-Mook, 46, who runs a boarding house for tourists.

"It is too much. It will cause us big trouble in making a living here. People in the region rely on (Korean) tourists to make a living. I doubt they would visit here now."

Im Seong-Il, 43, who has run a fish restaurant on the beach for 11 years, said he is thinking of leaving. Future visitors "may get skin diseases or other problems. They will not get into the water or even in the sand."

Marine farmers around Taean county, 90 kilometres southwest of Seoul, were also in shock. At Uihangri village, where 150 farms are located, they were spreading absorbent material to try to soak up the oil.

"It is a complete disaster," said oyster farmer Lee Nam-Kyu, 64.

"No one knows how long it (the oil) will last.. 10 years, 20 years? The sea farms have been shut down. There is no chance for them to reopen in my lifetime."

In the neighbouring village of Sogunri, Kook Kyung-Ho criticised authorities for failing to put a boom across the 1.5 kilometre mouth of the bay.

"It's over, it's over, it's over," he said. "I don't know how I will make a living from now on."

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A lone voice in China wins friends for environmental campaign
Beijing (AFP) Dec 4, 2007
From a spartan office in a humble brick building on a university campus, law professor Wang Canfa has gained fame for the legal battles he was waged for thousands of pollution victims across China.

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