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Yeonpyeong Islanders flee in advance of South Korea's expected live-fire drills

Even the plucky few residents who returned after North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23 are fleeing ahead of South Korea's live-fire drills this week.

Residents leave Yeonpyeong Island by a boat at a port of the island, Sunday. South Korea said it would go ahead with its live-fire drill on the border island between December 20 to 21. North Korea said last week it would strike again at the South with an even stronger response than last month's shelling if a live-fire drill by Seoul went ahead.

Newsis/Reuters

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On the eve of South Korean live-fire drills that North Korea vows to answer with "merciless strikes," desperate Yeonpyeong Islanders are fleeing their homes for the second time in a month. Some stopped at a local church to make one final prayer for their hometown before boarding a boat for mainland South Korea.

As they packed up and made for the harbor, the threat of further artillery strikes on this frontline South Korean outcrop seemed to hang perilously in the mist that concealed neighbor and enemy, North Korea.

Despite threats by the North, South Korea vowed again Sunday to proceed with planned live-fire drills off Yeonpyeong Island either Monday or Tuesday.

IN PICTURES: Inside North Korea

“I am afraid what might happen when the drills start,” says Park Mee-young as she scooped up her two young sons, gathered some belongings, and headed for the ferry terminal after the church service ended.

Plucky few now fleeing for their lives

Ms. Park is one of the plucky few residents who returned after North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at Yeonpyeong Island, killing two soldiers and two civilians in the worst attack on its neighbor since 1953.

Now they're all heading out while they still can.

About a dozen took part in the emotionally charged gathering inside a hall adjacent to the church, which saw almost every one of its windows blown out in last month’s attack.

For one woman, the pall that hangs over the island’s future was too much. Overcome with emotion, she struggled to contain her tears, using her fingertips to wipe away streams running down her cheeks.

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