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Koreans deep in grief over ferry toll

Days of waiting end in anguish as deaths hit 146

South Korean Coast Guard ships and other craft took part in recovery operations Tuesday at the site of the ferry sinking, near the island of Jindo. About 190 people are still missing.

ED JONES/AFP

South Korean Coast Guard ships and other craft took part in recovery operations Tuesday at the site of the ferry sinking, near the island of Jindo. About 190 people are still missing.

JINDO, South Korea — For a moment there is silence in the tent where bodies from the ferry disaster are brought for identification. Then the anguished cries begin.

The families who line up here to view the decomposing bodies have not known for nearly a week whether they should grieve or not. Now that they know, they sound like they are being torn apart.

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‘‘How do I live without you? How will your mother live without you?’’ a woman cried out Tuesday.

She was with a woman who emerged from the tent crying and fell into a chair where relatives tried to comfort her. One stood above her and cradled her head in her hands, stroking her face.

‘‘Bring back my daughter!’’ the woman cried, calling out her child’s name in agony. A man rushed over, lifted her on his back, and carried her away.

The confirmed death toll from the April 16 disaster off South Korea’s southern coast reached 146 on Tuesday, officials said, and about 150 people were still missing.

Four crew members accused of abandoning the ship and failing to protect the passengers were arrested, three days after the captain and two other crew were taken into custody.

The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol survived.

The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel.

Koh Myung-seok, a spokesman for the Emergency task force, said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered.

One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of Jindo island Tuesday.

The bodies are then driven in ambulances to two tents: one for men and boys, the other for women and girls. Families listen quietly outside as an official briefs them, then line up and file in. Only relatives are allowed inside.

Bodies are being identified visually, but family members have been providing DNA samples in case decomposition makes that impossible.

Twenty-two of the 29 members of the crew survived, and nine of them have been arrested or detained.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said a court issued arrest warrants Tuesday for four other crew members authorities had detained a day earlier. Two more crew members were detained Tuesday, and could face formal charges.

The four crew members arrested Tuesday talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts, and masks.

One said they tried to correct the ferry’s listing early on but ‘‘various devices, such as the balance weight, didn’t work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain’s judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn’t reach.’’

The captain has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck — where they would have had a greater chance of survival — without telling them to abandon ship.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said investigators are considering factors including wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship, and the fact that it turned just before it began listing. He said authorities will conduct a simulation and get the opinions of experts.

A Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries official had said Friday that the vessel had taken a sharp turn. But on Tuesday, a ministry official said the ministry now has more complete details about the ship’s path.

Data transmitted by the Sewol’s automatic identification system, an on-board transponder, show that the ship made a J-shaped turn.

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