Scenes of horror in Seoul as Halloween crush kills 151
SEOUL — South Korea’s leader declared a period of national mourning on Sunday after a Halloween crush killed some 151 people and hurt several dozen others in a packed nightlife area in the capital Seoul.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol condoled with the victims, mostly teenagers and people in their 20s, and expressed his wishes for a speedy recovery to the many injured.
“This is truly tragic,” he said in a statement. “A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night.”
A huge crowd celebrating in the popular Itaewon district surged into an alley on Saturday night, emergency officials said, adding that the death toll could rise.
No reported Filipino casualty
In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) said on Sunday there were no reports of any Filipino casualty during the incident, although the Philippine Embassy in Seoul was still closely monitoring the situation.
“To date the embassy has yet to receive reports of any Filipino victim in the stampede,” the DFA said in a statement, adding that two of the casualties were foreign nationals, while 15 other foreigners were hurt.
Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said she ordered the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Seoul to monitor the situation and provide regular updates to the DMW.
Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, said 151 deaths had been confirmed, including 19 foreigners. He told a briefing at the scene that 82 people were injured, 19 of them seriously.
It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing. Many of the partygoers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes. (See related story in World, Page B4.)
Early on Sunday, costumes and personal belongings mingled with blood spots in the narrow street. Survivors huddled under emergency blankets amid throngs of emergency workers, police and media.
Many of those killed were near a nightclub, Choi said.
Many of the victims were women in their 20s, while the foreigners killed included people from China, Iran, Uzbekistan and Norway, he said.
Witnesses described the crowd becoming increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening deepened. Chaos erupted just before the 10:20 p.m. (9:20 p.m. in Manila) stampede, with police on hand for the event at times struggling to control the crowds, witnesses said.
Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of trouble in the alley before the incident. He told Reuters it was more than 10 times as crowded as usual.
Packed alley on slope
Social media footage showed hundreds of people packed in the narrow, sloped alley crushed and immobile as emergency officials and police tried to pull them free.
Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all the deaths were likely from the crush in the alley.
Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to pour into the alley after it was already packed wall-to-wall, when those at the top of the slope fell, sending people below them toppling over others.
One 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 scene. About four dozen bodies were wheeled out on wheeled stretchers and moved to a government facility to identify the victims, according to a Reuters witness.
The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expatriates alike, its dozens of bars and restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses had suffered a sharp decline over three years of the pandemic.
“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks… but this was several tenfolds bigger than any of that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene.
Faced with a huge number of victims, the first emergency responders asked passersby to administer first aid and perform CPR on victims in the streets, just next to the chaos.
The bodies of people who had been crushed or trampled to death lay in rows, covered with blankets or makeshift shrouds.
Dazed passersby sat on the sidewalk, checking their phones. Others comforted themselves, hugging each other.
Early Sunday, police investigators had sealed off and were examining the debris-strewn alleyways, where bits of discarded Halloween costumes and garbage were still strewn over the paving stones.
“It’s always crowded, but nothing like this has ever happened before,” Ju Young Possamai, 24, a bartender in the Itaewon district told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“I’ve been to a lot of Halloween parties in Korea,” he said, adding: “I never thought that something like this could happen in Korea, especially in Itaewon.”