At least 153 people have died and 82 are injured after being crushed into a crowd during Halloween festivities in Seoul, South Korean officials have said, as the death toll in the tragedy continues to rise.
The victims are mostly in their 20s, according to the National Fire Agency. Two Americans were among the 19 foreign nationals who died, ABC News confirmed.
A University of Kentucky student, Anne Gieske, was among the victims, the school’s president, Eli Capilouto, said in a statement on Sunday.
“Anne, a young nurse from northern Kentucky, was studying in South Korea this semester as part of a study abroad program. We also have two other students and a faculty member this semester. been contacted and are safe,” Capilouto said. .
“We have been in contact with Anne’s family and will provide all possible support – now and in the days to come – as they deal with this indescribable loss,” he added. “We will be there for those in our community who knew and loved Anne. We also have almost 80 South Korean students in the UK – members of our community – who will need our support.”
Steven Blesi, 20, of Georgia, was also identified as one of the victims.
His father, Steve Blesi, told ABC News that “the world is a darker place without Steven.”
“Last night we received the call that no parent should receive. Our dear son Steven passed away in this horrific event in South Korea where he was studying abroad for a semester. We are devastated and ask for your prayers. “Steve Blesi said in a statement.
Kennesaw State University, where Steven Blesi was a student, also released a statement, saying he was an international business student and one of 11 university students from South Korea on a study abroad program. The other students were declared safe and sound, KSU said.
“On behalf of the entire Kennesaw State community, our thoughts and prayers go out to Steven’s family and friends as they mourn this incomprehensible loss,” said President Kathy Schwaig. “We have been in contact with Steven’s family and offered them all available University resources.”
More deaths were feared in the crash, officials said in a previous update as the death toll rose to 120 and 100 injured.
Many victims were transferred to local hospitals in cardiac arrest after emergency CPR, the agency said.
The casualties occurred in the Itaewon entertainment district on Saturday night, when a large crowd marched through the neighborhood’s narrow lanes, witnesses said.
The incident was first reported around 10:20 p.m. local time, officials said. It took time for the rescue teams to react due to the large crowd.
More than 100,000 people gathered for Halloween parties in the area, which is known for its nightclubs. The area has bars located along the narrow lanes that line the main street. People got stuck in these curved and slanted alleys, according to witnesses.
Bystander video from the scene showed a large emergency and police response to the district as a crowd of people, some in costume, were still gathered at the scene. CPR could be seen being performed on the street.
The cause of the crowds is under investigation, officials said.
“It just got too scary”
Janelle Story, an American who has lived in South Korea since 2016, told ABC News the area is usually crowded, especially on Halloween. But it was “another level”.
“This is the first time since the pandemic that we can really go out,” she said. “Itaewon is famous for being crowded, but it was just a level I had never seen before.”
Story and a friend were bar-hopping when she began filming the crowd around 10:30 p.m., she said.
“That’s when I saw in front of me this mass of people running, pushing and moving fast, then screaming and panicking,” she said. “We were just kind of up and slowly. And then it happened. Bam! This wall of people came our way.”
“I stopped filming because it was getting too scary,” she continued.
Story said she heard other passers-by mention people fainting. When they tried to make their way to the subway station, they saw fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, before making their way home safely.
“I can’t believe it happened. I don’t know how,” she said. “It looks like an abnormal event.”
The United States offered its support to South Korea in the wake of the tragedy.
“The reports coming out of Seoul are heartbreaking,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. said on Twitter. “We are thinking of all those who have lost loved ones and hope for a speedy recovery for those injured. The United States stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden offered their “sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul.”
“We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who have been injured,” the president said in a statement. “The Alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital – and the bonds between our peoples are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea at this tragic time.”
ABC News’ Nicholas Cirone contributed to this report.