South Koreans mourned and searched for loved ones lost in the ‘hellish’ chaos that killed more than 150 people, mostly young adults, when a huge Halloween party crowd burst into a narrow alley in a Seoul nightlife district.
It remains unclear what prompted the crowds to rush into the Itaewon area downhill driveway on Saturday night, and authorities have promised a full investigation. Witnesses said people were falling on top of each other “like dominoes” and some victims were bleeding from their noses and mouths during CPR.
Kim Mi Sung, head of a non-profit organization that promotes tourism in Itaewon, said she performed CPR on 10 unconscious people, mostly women wearing witch outfits and other Halloween costumes. . Nine of them were declared dead on the spot.
“I still can’t believe what happened. It was like hell,” Kim said.
On Sunday evening, officials said 154 people had been killed, including 2 Americans, and 149 injured. Almost two-thirds of those killed – 97 – were women. More than 80% of the dead were in their 20s and 30s, and at least four were teenagers.
The Interior and Security Ministry said the death toll could rise further as 37 of the injured were in serious condition.
Witnesses said many people seemed unaware of the disaster unfolding just steps away from them. Some dressed in Halloween costumes continued to sing and dance nearby while others lay lifeless on the ground.
Ken Fallas, a Costa Rican architect who traveled to Itaewon with expat friends, used his smartphone to film a video showing unconscious people being carried out of the alley as others screamed for help. He said loud music made things more chaotic.
“When we just started moving forward, there was no way to go back,” Fallas said. “We didn’t hear anything because the music was very loud. Now, I think that’s one of the main things that made this so complicated.
At least 20 of the dead are foreigners from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere. A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Seoul confirmed that there were two known American deaths.
Authorities said thousands of people called or visited an office in the nearby town, reporting missing relatives and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crash.
Bodies of the dead were being kept at 42 hospitals in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi Province, according to the city of Seoul, which said it would ask crematoria to burn more bodies per day as part of procedural support plans. funeral.
Two Americans were among more than 150 people killed and more than 130 injured after they were run over by a crowd during Halloween festivities in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Saturday.
About 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the start of the pandemic. The South Korean government has eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.
Although Halloween isn’t a traditional holiday in South Korea – where children rarely pull off tricks – it’s still a major attraction for young adults, and costume parties in bars and clubs are become extremely popular in recent years.
Seoul’s flagship Halloween destination is Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of US military forces in South Korea operated for decades before leaving the capital in 2018. The expat-friendly neighborhood is known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants.
Witnesses said the streets were so densely packed with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was virtually impossible for rescue workers and ambulances to quickly reach the driveway near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. .
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a week-long period of national mourning on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to be flown at half mast. About 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area agreed to close their stores until Monday to reduce the number of revelers who would take to the streets on Halloween.
In a televised address, Yoon said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and treating the injured would be a top priority for his government. He also called on officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the crash and review the safety of other major cultural and entertainment events.
“It is truly devastating. The tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul in the middle of Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during his speech. “I have the heavy heart and I can’t contain my sadness as the president responsible for people’s lives and safety.”
After the speech, Yoon visited the alley where the disaster happened. Local television footage showed Yoon inspecting the litter-filled driveway and being briefed by emergency services officials.
World leaders offered their condolences, including Pope Francis.
“We also pray to the Risen Lord for those – especially young people – who died last night in Seoul, due to the tragic consequences of a sudden crash,” Francis said after Sunday’s Angelus prayer on the St. Peter’s Square, inviting the crowd to pray. for the victims.
Of the 20 foreigners who died, four are from China; three from Russia; two from Iran; and one each from Vietnam, Austria, Norway, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and the United States, the interior ministry said. He added that the nationalities of the other four foreigners have not been confirmed.
The University of Kentucky released a statement saying that among the victims was one of its students who was studying in South Korea this semester as part of a study abroad program.
Some local media said the foreign death toll had risen to 26. France and Thailand each reported one and Japan said two of their nationals also died in the Itaewon disaster, but the ministry South Korean Interior could not immediately confirm the information.
The influx of crowds was South Korea’s deadliest disaster since 2014, when 304 people, mostly high school students, died in the sinking of a ferry.
The sinking revealed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was partly blamed on excessive, loosely secured cargo and an ill-trained crew in emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths will likely draw public attention to what government officials have been doing to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.