South Korea cries and wants answers after Halloween crush kills 153 people

SEOUL, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Shocked family members collected bodies, parents searched for children and a country searched for answers on Sunday after at least 153 people were crushed to death when a mob in South Korea swept down an alley during Halloween festivities.

President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning and designated Seoul popularItaewon District a disaster area after the disaster on Saturday evening.

“This news fell like lightning from the blue sky,” said a father who broke down in tears as he collected the body of his daughter of a morgue in the nation’s capital.

A huge crowd celebrating in Itaewon burst into an alley, killing at least 153 people, most in their 20s, emergency officials said, adding the death toll could rise.

The revelers, some still teenagers and many in Halloween costumes, were ready to take advantage of the bars, nightclubs and restaurants where revelry regularly spills out into narrow and often steep streets.

In place, the street became filled with people screaming for help, while rescuers desperately sought to free trapped bodies and perform CPR on people sprawled on the debris-strewn ground.

Choi Sung-beom, chief of the Yongsan fire station, said during a briefing at the scene that 82 people were injured, 19 of them seriously. The dead included 22 foreigners, he said.

Families and friends were desperately searching for news of their loved ones in community centers turned into facilities for missing persons.

At least 90% of the victims had been identified by midday, with delays affecting some foreign nationals and teenagers who did not yet have identity cards, the interior ministry said.

Makeshift memorials began to appear near the site, onlookers leaving flowers and notes.

President Yoon expressed his condolences to the victims and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the many injured in one of the worst disasters and the worst in the world jostling in decades.

“It’s truly tragic,” he said in a statement, promising an investigation into the cause of the disaster. “A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night.”

At least 151 deaths have been confirmed with 82 people injured, 19 seriously.


South Korean tech and mobile game companies, including Kakao (035720.KS) and NCSOFT (036570.KS) pulled their Halloween promotions after the tragedy, while Everland Amusement Park canceled Halloween-themed events. Many regional governments and organizations have canceled or reduced festivals and other celebrations.

The reveler crush came as Itaewon, a symbol of freewheeling nightlife in the South Korean capital for decades that was just start to thrive after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions, with trendy restaurants and shops replacing seedy establishments.

It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years to be virtually free of COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing. Many revelers wore Halloween masks and costumes.

Twenty-four hours before, there was already traffic signs that the festivities drew dangerous numbers of people, and victims and their relatives questioned an apparent lack of crowd control.

Early on Sunday, suits and personal effects mingled with the bloodstains in the narrow street. Survivors huddled under emergency blankets amid crowds of rescuers, police and media.

Many of those killed were near a nightclub, Choi said. Foreigners killed included nationals of China, Iran, Uzbekistan and Norway, he said.

Witnesses described the crowd becoming increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening progressed. Chaos erupted just before the 10:20 p.m. (1:20 p.m. GMT) stampede, with police on site for the event struggling to control crowds at times, witnesses said.

Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of unrest in the alley before the incident. He told Reuters there were more than 10 times more people than usual.

Social media footage showed hundreds of people crammed into the narrow, sloping driveway, crushed and motionless as emergency officials and police tried to free them.

Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all of the deaths were likely due to the crash in the alley.

Makeshift Mortuary

Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to pour into the alley when it was already crowded wall to wall, when those at the top of the slope fell, sending people below them overthrow others.

A woman said her daughter, pulled from the crush of people, survived after being trapped for more than an hour.

A makeshift morgue was set up in a building next to the stage. According to a Reuters witness, about four dozen bodies were transported on wheeled stretchers and taken to a government facility to identify the victims.

The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expats, its dozens of bars and restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses suffered a sharp drop in three years of the pandemic.

“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks… but it was many times bigger than all that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene.

International leaders offered condolencesincluding US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping, who noted Chinese were among the dead and injured.

With the easing of the COVID pandemic, curfews on bars and restaurants and a 10-person limit on private gatherings were lifted in April. An outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May.

President Yoon held an emergency meeting with high-level aides and ordered the establishment of a task force to secure resources to treat the injured and launch a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster.

The disaster is the country’s deadliest since the sinking of a ferry in 2014 that killed 304 people, mostly high school students.

The sinking of the Sewol and criticism of the official response sent shockwaves through South Korea, prompting widespread soul-searching over security measures in the country that are likely to be renewed in the wake of the crash. of Saturday.

Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi, Heekyong Yang, Hyonhee Shin, Choonsik Yoo, Ju-min Park, Daewoung Kim, Hong-ji Kim and Josh Smith; Written by Josh Smith and Jack Kim; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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