At least 151 dead, 82 injured in stampede during Seoul’s Halloween festivities
A mass of mostly young people celebrating Halloween in Seoul became trapped and crushed as the crowd surged into a narrow alley, killing at least 153 people and injuring 133 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 on Saturday night.
Those killed or hurt were mostly teens and people in their 20s, according to Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. According to the Ministry of the Interior, at least one foreign national was among the dead. Their nationalities were not immediately released. Some of the injured were in critical condition, so the death toll could rise.
At least two U.S. citizens were killed in the stampede, the State Department told CBS News in a statement Sunday.
Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their tally.
National Fire Agency officials didn’t immediately explain why the tally was reduced but said emergency workers would have had a more accurate idea of the casualties as rescue operations proceeded and that some of the injured would have been converted to deaths. It is possible that some of the lightly injured returned home overnight, and they were not counted anymore.
An estimated 100,000 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.
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. In a separate statement, the National Fire Agency stated that officials were still trying determine the exact number.
It was not immediately clear why the crowd rushed into the narrow alleyway near the Hamilton Hotel, which is a popular party spot in Seoul. One survivor claimed that many people fell and toppled each other “like dominos” when they were being pushed by others. Kim, the survivor, stated that they were trapped for around an hour and a quarter before being rescued. Some people shouted “Help! According to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper, others were short of breath.
Another survivor named Lee Chang-kyu said he saw five to six men push others before one or two fell at the beginning of the stampede.
The stampede is the biggest disaster since 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking in April 2014. The sinking was partly due to lax safety regulations and regulatory failures. It also included excessively fastened cargo and crew that were not trained for emergency situations. Friday’s stampede will likely lead to public criticism of government officials for what they have done to improve public safety standards after the ferry disaster.
TV footage and photos showed ambulance vehicles lined up in streets amid a heavy police presence and emergency workers moving the injured in stretchers. CPR was also performed by pedestrians and emergency workers on the streets. Paramedics were also seen in one section checking the condition of several people who had been lying motionless underneath blue blankets.
Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon said that it was shocking to see rows upon rows of bodies in an alleyway near Hamilton Hotel. According to him, emergency workers were overwhelmed at first and pedestrians had to perform CPR on the injured people lying on the streets. He said that people cried beside the bodies.
Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled as he luckily got into a bar whose door was open at the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s surnamed Park told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the side of the alley while others were caught in the middle.
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. He directed the Health Ministry to quickly deploy disaster medical assistance teams to the area and to secure beds in nearby hospitals to treat the injured.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued an emergency text message urging residents to return home quickly.
“Jill, and I send our deepest condolences for the families who lost loved one in Seoul,” President Biden stated in a statement Saturday evening. “We are with the people of Republic of Korea. We send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured. The Alliance between our countries has never been stronger or more vibrant — and our people have stronger ties than ever before. The United States stands by the Republic of Korea in this difficult time.”
There have been deadly stampedes across South Korea in the past. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured in a pop concert stampede in the southern city of Sangju. In 1992, a teenage girl died and dozens of others were injured during a stampede at a Seoul concert by the U.S. pop group New Kids on the Block.
- South Korea
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