South Korea is shocked, 151 people died as a result of the crowd on Halloween | WGN 720 Radio

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Worried relatives rushed to hospitals in search of their loved ones Sunday as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who were trapped and crushed after a huge party Halloween entered a narrow alley in the nightlife district of Seoul.

Tens of thousands of people are believed to have gathered in Itaewon for the celebrations on Saturday night. Witnesses said the streets were so packed with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was almost impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley near the Hamilton Hotel as the situation quickly escalated into one of the country’s worst disasters in years.

Officials say the death toll could rise as 19 of the 82 injured are in critical condition.

Seoul city officials said more than 2,000 people had called city officials in nearby Hannam-dong as of midday Saturday saying their relatives had not been contacted and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or killed in the crash.

Among the dead were 19 foreigners, said Choi Sung-beom, chief of the Seoul Yongsan Fire Department. Their nationality was not revealed immediately.

An estimated 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween celebration since the start of the pandemic, with strict assembly rules in place. In recent months, the South Korean government has eased restrictions due to COVID-19, and for many young people it was their first big chance to get out and play.

Although Halloween is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go out for treats, it is still a major attraction for young people, and costume parties in bars and clubs have become very popular in recent years.

Ithaewon, near the site of the former headquarters of the US military in South Korea until it moved from the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly area known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants, and is the city’s main attraction on Halloween.

Officials initially said 150 people had been injured as of Sunday morning, but later lowered the number. National Fire Agency officials did not immediately explain why the number was reduced, but said emergency officials would have had a better idea of ​​casualties during rescue operations and that some of the casualties had been converted to death. It is also possible that some of the lightly wounded returned home at night and are no longer counted.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared national mourning on Sunday and ordered flags on government buildings and public institutions to be lowered to half-staff. In a televised address, Yoon said support for the families of the victims, including funeral arrangements, and treatment for the injured would be his government’s top priority.

He also urged officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the security of other major cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure their safe conduct.

“It’s really devastating. A tragedy and disaster that didn’t need to happen happened in the center of Seoul during Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “My heart is heavy and I cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the lives and safety of the people.”

After the speech, Yoon visited Ithaewon Alley, where the disaster occurred. Local television showed Yoon inspecting an alley filled with debris and being briefed by emergency workers.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crowd to pour into the narrow slipway outside the Hamilton Hotel, Seoul’s main party spot. One survivor said many people fell and knocked over each other “like dominoes” as they were pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before they were rescued when some people shouted “Help me!” while others were suffocated, Seoul newspaper Hankyoreh reported.

Another survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men pushing others before one or two began to fall, the newspaper reported.

In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyuk, a visitor to Ithaewon, said it was shocking to see the rows of bodies outside the hotel. He said emergency responders were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to victims lying in the streets. People were clamoring over the bodies of their friends, he said.

Another man in his 20s said he escaped being trampled by managing to enter a bar whose door was open in an alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s, surnamed Park, told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the alley, and there was no way out for others trapped in the middle of the alley.

Choi, the fire chief, said the bodies were sent to hospitals or gymnasiums where family members could identify them. According to him, most of the dead and injured were in their 20s.

“Terrible news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and with all South Koreans at this very troubling time.”

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, tweeted that the reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington was “ready to provide any necessary support to the Republic of Korea”.

The latest such deadly disaster in South Korea also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died as a result of the sinking of the ferry. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. This was partly blamed on excessive and poorly secured cargo and on crews poorly prepared for emergencies. Saturday’s death is likely to draw public attention to what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

It was also the second major disaster in Asia in a month. On October 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, killing 132 people as spectators tried to flee.

More than 1,700 first responders from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the injured, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 civil servants. A separate statement from the National Fire Agency said officials were still trying to determine the exact number of patients who received emergency treatment.

It was the deadliest disaster in South Korea’s history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and about 60 injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sanju.

In 1960, 31 people died after being crushed on the station stairs as crowds of people rushed to board a train during the Lunar New Year holiday.

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