October 31, 2022 13:28
The alley in Seoul's Itaewon where at least 154 people died and dozens of others were injured in a stampede this Halloween weekend was in some ways an accident waiting to happen.
The steep alley is just 40 m long and narrows to 3.2 m. It is always busy in the evening as a passage from the subway station to a street of popular bars and restaurants.
At the time of tragedy, a huge crowd kept pouring into the alley even after many people had already fallen at the lower end and toppled over one another "like dominoes," as witnesses put it.
The alley has a steep gradient from a street in front of Itaewon subway station on the main road and leads to a trendy backstreet behind Hamilton Hotel.
In Saturday's crush, thousands of people were pressing in on the bottleneck, pinning down those who had already fallen under accelerating pressure.
Owners of nearby shops had pointed out the danger for some time. An 80-year-old shop owner who witnessed the tragedy said, "We always thought that an accident might happen here someday as the slippery slope is always busy with huge crowds. An accident might have been inevitable as many drunk people crammed into the alley, but nobody imagined the scale."
There was no way to diffuse the pressure on either side. From the subway station, the right side of the alley is blocked by the wall of Hamilton Hotel while the left side is lined with shops and bars that were either closed or had shut their doors because they were full.
Video clips show that people who had climbed over the balustrades of shops or bars or clung to the walls were able to move a little, but those who were stuck in the middle had no wiggle room at all.
Many of the victims were crushed to death while others suffered heart attacks and died of terror under the unrelenting pressure of the crowd.
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