by: Frances Katharine Manalo || Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP
An estimated 100,000 people in a surge, costumed partygoers fleeing in terror, desperate first aid attempts on sidewalks, and dead bodies lined up in narrow streets—these were the scenes in the nightlife district of the South Korean capital as a Halloween celebration turned into a tragic night.
At least 151 individuals were reported dead, including 19 foreign nationals, and a further 82 were injured in a crowd surge and stampede in Itaewon, Seoul, on Saturday night. Most victims were teenagers and young adults in their 20s who attended the first major Halloween celebration after 3 years as the country lifted the COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing protocols.
According to Choi Seong-beom, Chief of the Yongsan Fire Department, the death toll could still rise, and the exact number of those in critical condition remains unclear.
South Korean authorities have not yet provided exact details and are still investigating the specific cause of the incident. However, Yonhap News Agency reported that according to fire officials, dozens of people suffered from “cardiac arrest” and breathing difficulties.
Witnesses and survivors described that it was difficult to move around as partygoers were packed in the narrow streets of Itaewon. Additionally, the police were having trouble maintaining control of the crowds.
“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks … but this was several ten-folds bigger than any of that,” said Park Jung-hoon, a witness from Reuters.
A CNN witness, Sung Sehyun, described the space and chaos in the scenes as a “jammed subway.”
“I saw people going to the left side and I saw the person getting to the opposite side. So, the person in the middle got jammed, they had no way to communicate, they could not breathe,” he stated.
“I was lucky to get through (but an) hour later, I heard people got killed. Because people got stamped on… and people got jammed together,” Sung added.
Many others were similarly unaware of the risk until it was too late.
“There was also a police officer screaming but we couldn’t really tell (if it) was a real police officer because so many people were wearing costumes,” Ah Su Jo disclosed to CNN.
She elaborated that she had only realized the gravity of the situation when she took a detour and fled to safety, seeing people climb buildings in an attempt to survive.
Addressing the nation early Sunday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a period of national mourning “until the handling of the accident is concluded.” Afterward, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo stated that the mourning period would conclude at midnight on November 5.
The last time South Korea encountered an incident leaving a high death toll was the sinking of Sewol last 2014, killing 304 individuals, mainly high school students.
“A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night,” Yoon expressed.
via CNN, Reuters, and Voice of America