At least 151 dead, 82 injured in stampede during Halloween celebrations in Seoul
A crowd of mostly young people celebrating Halloween in Seoul were trapped and crushed as the crowd squeezed into a narrow alley, with at least 151 people killed and 82 others injured in South Korea’s worst disaster in years.
Rescue workers and pedestrians desperately performed CPR on people lying on the street after the crush in the capital’s Itaewon leisure district on Saturday night.
Those killed or injured were mostly teenagers and people in their 20s, according to Choi Seong-beom, chief of the Yongsan Fire Department in Seoul. The dead included 19 foreigners, he said, whose nationalities were not immediately released. The death toll could rise further as 19 of those injured were in critical condition.
At least one US citizen was injured in the stampede, the State Department told CBS News in a statement Saturday night.
“We are working with local authorities to determine if additional U.S. citizens are affected and stand ready to provide consular assistance,” the statement said.
Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their number.
National Fire Agency officials did not immediately explain why the number was reduced, but said that as the rescue effort unfolded, rescue workers had a better idea of the casualties and that some of the injuries had been converted to deaths. It is also possible that some of the slightly injured returned home overnight and were no longer counted.
An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the largest outdoor Halloween celebration since the pandemic began. The South Korean government has eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months. Itaewon, near the former US Forces South Korea headquarters before it pulled out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly neighborhood known for its trendy bars, clubs, and restaurants.
More than 1,700 responders from across the country were deployed to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government employees. The National Fire Agency said separately in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.
It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the crowds to flock to the narrow, downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party venue in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell “like dominoes” and toppled after being pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued when some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to Seoul-based newspaper Hankyoreh.
Another survivor named Lee Chang-kyu, according to the newspaper, said he saw about five to six men start pushing others before one or two began falling one by one as the stampede began, the newspaper said.
The stampede is the worst disaster since 304 people, mostly schoolchildren, died in a ferry sinking in April 2014. The sinking revealed lax safety rules and regulatory omissions, as it was attributed in part to excessive and poorly secured cargo and an ill-trained crew in emergency situations. Friday’s stampede is likely to spark public criticism of government officials for what they have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.
Television footage and photos showed ambulances lined up in the streets amid a heavy police presence and rescue workers carrying the injured on stretchers. EMTs and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying in the street. In one section, paramedics were seen checking the status of a dozen or more people who lay motionless under blue blankets.
In an interview with YTN news channel, Hwang Min-hyeok, one of Itaewon’s visitors, said it was shocking to see rows of dead bodies in the alley near the Hamilton Hotel. He said rescue workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to revive injured people lying on the street. People cried next to corpses, he said.
Another survivor, in his 20s, said he avoided being trampled when he luckily got into a bar with the door open in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s, surnamed Park, told Yonhap that she and others stood at the edge of the alley while others were trapped in the middle.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement urging officials to ensure swift treatment of the injured and to check the security of the festival sites. He also ordered the Health Ministry to quickly deploy emergency medical teams and secure beds at a nearby hospital to treat the injured.
The Seoul city government issued emergency text messages urging people in the area to return home quickly.
“Jill and I offer our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul,” President Biden said in a statement Saturday night. “We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all who were injured. The alliance between our two countries has never been so dynamic and vital – and the ties between our peoples are stronger than ever. The United States stands with Korea Republic at this tragic time.”
There have been deadly mass panics in South Korea in the past. In 2005, a rush to a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju killed 11 and injured around 60 others. In 1992, a teenage girl died and dozens more were injured in a stampede at a New Kids on the Block concert in Seoul.