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Eyewitnesses say ‘it was like hell’ in South Korean crush | WGN 720 Radio

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In an instant, thousands of Halloween revelers flocked to the narrow, bustling streets of Seoul’s most cosmopolitan district, eager to show off their capes, wizard hats and bat wings.

The following day, panic spread as an unruly crowd crowded into a narrow alley in Ithaewon. Toppled revelers piled on top of each other “like dominoes” in a chaotic stampede so violent that their clothes were ripped off.

A stunned Seoul was just beginning on Monday to bring together the massive crowd that killed mostly people in their 20s and 30s, including foreign nationals, on Saturday night. As of Sunday evening, officials put the death toll at 153 and the number of injured at 133. The Ministry of Interior and Security said it expected the death toll to rise due to the number of seriously injured.

Witnesses say the nightmarish scene escalated as people administered CPR to the dying and carried limp bodies into ambulances, while dance music throbbed from bright neon-lit clubs. Others desperately tried to pull out those trapped in the crush of people, but failed as too many people in the crowd fell on top of them.

Some people could not move at all for 40 minutes.

“We were so glued together that we couldn’t even move to call and report the situation,” said one witness, surnamed Lee. “We were strangers, but we held each other’s hands and shouted over and over again: ‘We will survive!’

Kim Mi-sung, a witness who works at a non-profit organization in Itaewon, told The Associated Press that nine out of 10 people she administered CPR on died as a result. Many were bleeding from the nose and mouth. Most were women dressed as witches or in other Halloween costumes; two were foreigners.

“It was like hell,” Kim said. “I still can’t believe what happened.”

In this ultra-wired, high-tech country, the anguish, terror and grief, and many of the details of what happened, are most vividly displayed on social media. Users posted desperate searches for friends and loved ones, while witnesses and survivors described what they had been through.

“I thought I was dying,” one woman said in a post on Twitter. “My whole body was stuck among everyone, and people were laughing from the terrace and filming us. I thought I would really die if I screamed. I stretched out my hands to (others) who were above me and managed to get out.’

An unidentified female witness in her 20s cried as she described the scene to Yonhap News Agency: “It looked like people’s graves were piled on top of each other. Some of them were slowly losing consciousness, while others seemed already dead.’

A male witness surnamed Kong said he managed to escape to a nearby bar with his friends after the crash. Through the bar’s windows, he saw people falling on top of each other “like dominoes,” Yonhap reported.

Friends and family gathered at the local government office to try to find information about the missing.

“I haven’t heard anything about my child. How am I supposed to sleep when the baby hasn’t come home?” the unidentified woman said, according to a Yonhap News TV video.

One Twitter user posted a series of messages asking for information about a 17-year-old friend who went to Itaewon to celebrate with a hair band that looked like cat ears.

“I lost touch with her. She was my friend for 12 years and we were like family. Please help me,” the message reads.

Even after the crash, some witnesses said they saw some revelers not immediately yielding to ambulances, rescuers and police. One viral video clip on Twitter, showing a crowd of young people dancing and singing near the slaughterhouse, has drawn some flak from South Koreans.


Jee-won Jeong contributed to this story from Bangkok.


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