October 31, 2022 09:39
Korea has declared a weeklong national mourning after at least 154 people were crushed to death and 132 injured when thousands converged in a small alley in Seoul's entertainment district of Itaewon on Saturday night.
They were among some 100,000 revelers who converged on the neighborhood to celebrate the first Halloween weekend since lockdown was lifted.
According to police, 98 of the dead were women and 56 men, mostly in their 20s. They included four teenagers and 26 foreigners from 14 countries including the U.S., Japan, China, Iran and Norway.
The streets of Itaewon were teeming with crowds of people by 9 p.m., and the steep and slippery alley where the tragedy occurred narrows to just 3.2 m, leading uphill from the Itaewon subway station on the main road to a trendy backstreet behind Hamilton Hotel that is filled with popular bars and restaurants.
People who converged at the upper end of the alley fell over or trampled on those below, trapping many people underneath and suffocating them.
Video footage of the scene shows large numbers of people continuing to pour into the alley even after those trapped in the middle fell to the ground. It was particularly women who were unable to free themselves. First responders who arrived at the scene were unable to reach the victims quickly in the crush.
Police and emergency workers were alerted around 10:20 p.m. that people were trapped under the crowds and immediately rushed to the scene, but rescue efforts could not begin until an hour later due to the crush and cars that blocked the streets.
Rescue workers were unable to reach the scene until 11 p.m. although the closest fire station was just 235 m away. Firefighters, police and bystanders administered first aid to many of the victims, but there were just too many people in need of emergency treatment.
Saturday's tragedy was the biggest loss of lives in Korea since the death of 304 people in the April 2014 ferry disaster. The bodies of the dead were transferred to 40 hospitals. The families of the victims gathered in hospitals to search for their missing children. The Seoul Metropolitan Government received more than 4,000 inquiries about missing people.
President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning in a televised statement on Sunday. "As president, who is responsible for the people's lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief," he said.
He pledged authorities will "thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident and make fundamental improvements to ensure the same accident does not occur again in the future."
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