The incident took place as a large number of people fell down in a narrow alley during the Halloween events in South Korean capital Seoul
A mass of mostly young people celebrating Halloween festivities in Seoul became trapped and crushed as the crowd surged into a narrow alley, killing at least 151 people and injuring 82 others in South Korea’s worst disaster in years.
Emergency workers and pedestrians desperately performed CPR on people lying in the streets after the crush in the capital’s leisure district of Itaewon Saturday night.
Nineteen of the injured were in serious condition and receiving emergency treatment, the officials said, adding the death toll could rise.
It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted COVID restrictions and social distancing. Many of the partygoers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes.
Some witnesses described the crowd becoming increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening deepened. The incident took place at about 10:20 p.m. (1320 GMT).
“A number of people fell during a Halloween festival, and we have a large number of casualties,” Choi said. Many of those killed were near a nightclub.
Many of the victims were women in their twenties, Choi said.
Witnesses described chaotic scenes moments before the stampede, with the police on hand in anticipation of the Halloween event at times having trouble maintaining control of the crowds.
Those killed or hurt were mostly teens and people in their 20s, according to Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. The dead included 19 foreigners, he said, whose nationalities weren’t immediately released. The death toll could rise further as 19 of those injured were in critical condition.
An estimated 1,00,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began. The South Korean government eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months. Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of U.S. military forces in South Korea operated before moving out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly district known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants.
Other footage showed chaotic scenes of fire officials and citizens treating dozens of people who appeared to be unconscious.
Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to pour into the narrow alley that was already packed wall-to-wall, when those at the top of the sloped street fell, sending people below them toppling over others.
An unnamed woman who said she was the mother of a survivor said her daughter and others were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled from the crush of people in the alley.
A Reuters witness said a makeshift morgue was set up in a building adjacent to the scene. About four dozen bodies were carried out later on wheeled stretchers and moved to a government facility to identify the victims, according to the witness.
It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell and toppled one another “like dominos” after they were being pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued, as some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.
Another survivor, named Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five to six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the newspaper.
In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies near the hotel. He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets. People wailed beside the bodies of their friends, he said.
The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expatriates alike, its dozens of bars and restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses had suffered a sharp decline over three years of the pandemic.
“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks … but this was several ten-folds bigger than any of that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene.
Two foreigners were among the dead, and others were transferred to nearby hospitals.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife sent their condolences and wrote: “We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.”
It was also Asia’s second major crushing disaster in a month. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.
More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers. The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement calling for officials to ensure swift treatment for those injured and review the safety of the festivity sites.
This was the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.
The disaster is among the country’s deadliest since a 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people, mainly high school students.
The sinking of the Sewol, and criticism of the official response, sent shockwaves across South Korea and prompted widespread soul-searching over safety measures in the country that are likely to be renewed in the wake of Saturday’s crush.
President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over an emergency meeting with senior aides and ordered a task force be set up to secure resources to treat the injured and to launch a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster.