Itaewon Halloween crush kills at least 154


Source: CBC

At least 154 people are dead after a Halloween party in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, turned deadly, making for one of the worst peacetime tragedies in Korea since the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. An estimated 100,000 revelers gathered on Saturday, Oct. 29, to celebrate Halloween after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted for the first time in three years. 

With only 137 police officers dispatched to monitor the festivity, crowd control was near impossible. Videos posted on social media show narrow and sloping alleys near the Hamilton Hotel jammed with people. As crowds began pushing from several directions throughout the night, witnesses reported seeing people toppling on top of each other and being trampled. 

“I was on the second floor of the main street celebrating my friend’s birthday when I witnessed the deadly crowd surge,” Josh Lee (12), attendee of the event, said.  “At around 11:30 p.m., there were people crowded in the narrow alley. Many women were wearing heels so from what I could see, some of them lost their balance. From then, I started hearing everyone screaming.”

With little space to move, many had difficulty breathing. Emergency calls began flooding in at around 10:15 p.m., during which dozens of people suffered from cardiac arrest. 

“It is difficult to describe what happened because there were so many things going on,” Elena Kim (11), a student who was at Itaewon at the time of the event, said. “The scene was just chaotic — a crowded place with loud sirens and around ten or more ambulances with fire trucks lining up on the streets.”

Pedestrians and emergency personnel could be seen pulling people out of crowds and performing CPR on motionless bodies. With the area so tightly packed, emergency vehicles had trouble reaching the injured. According to the National Fire Agency, all of Seoul’s available emergency personnel were deployed.

“Everyone was asking for volunteers to help with CPR because there were not enough medical personnel to help people who were on the ground,” Josh said. “Some people with CPR certifications or those who previously served in the military and learned how to perform emergency chest compressions helped the injured.”

Among those dead were 26 foreigners, including 2 Americans. Most of the victims were in their late teens or early twenties. 

“I was just in shock, and it felt unreal,” Josh said. “It was also scary — people everywhere were screaming for their lives and asking for help.”

Throughout the week, the Korean government came under fire for failing to protect the young and not immediately responding to the first signs of an impending tragedy at the Halloween party. On Tuesday, police released transcripts of the first calls that were made hours before people began trampling on one another, revealing one of the first warnings of a potentially deadly crowd surge.

In response to the public outcry over the mishandling of the Halloween party, authorities raided municipal offices and local police departments. President Yoon Seok-youl addressed the public the morning after the incident, vowing to enforce crowd control measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

The Korean government announced a period of national mourning that continued until Nov. 5. Leaders worldwide, including US President Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, expressed their condolences in the wake of the Itaewon Halloween tragedy.

“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “The United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time.”