South Korea in shock and grief over the death of 153 people in the increase in the Halloween crowd

South Korea in shock and grief over the death of 153 people in the increase in the Halloween crowd

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Koreans mourned and searched for family members lost in the “hellish” chaos that killed more than 150 people, mostly young adults, when a large Halloween party crowd stormed an alley. tight in a nightlife district. in Seoul.

It was unclear what prompted the crowd to enter the downhill alley in the Itaewon area on Saturday night, with authorities promising a thorough investigation. Witnesses said people were falling on top of each other “like dominoes,” with some victims bleeding from the nose and mouth while receiving CPR.

Kim Mi Sung, an official with a non-profit organization that promotes tourism in Itaewon, said she performed CPR on 10 people who were unconscious, mostly women wearing witch costumes and other Halloween costumes. Nine of them were declared dead on the spot.

“I still can’t believe what happened. It was like hell,” Kim said.

As of Sunday night, authorities said 153 people were killed and 133 injured. Nearly two-thirds of those killed, 97, were women. More than 80% of the dead were between 20 and 30 years old, and at least four were teenagers.

The Interior and Security Ministry said the death toll could rise further as 37 of the injured are in serious condition.

GRAPHIC WARNING: The video in this story contains images that some may find disturbing.

GRAPHIC WARNING: Dozens dead in Seoul, South Korea, after crowds swell over Halloween festivities. (Source: CNN/GETTY IMAGES)

Witnesses said many people seemed unaware of the disaster unfolding just steps away from them. Some dressed in Halloween costumes continued to sing and dance nearby while others lay lifeless on the ground.

Ken Fallas, a Costa Rican architect who went to Itaewon with expat friends, used his smartphone to shoot a video showing unconscious people being carried out of the alley while others screamed for help. He said loud music made things more chaotic.

“When we started moving forward, there was no way to go back,” Fallas said. “We didn’t hear anything because the music was too loud. Now, I think that was one of the main things that made this so complicated.”

At least 20 of the dead are foreigners from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere. An American is among the dead, the Home Office said in a statement.

Authorities said thousands of people called or visited a nearby city office, reporting family members missing and asking officials to confirm if they were among those injured or killed after the crush.

The bodies of the dead were kept in 42 hospitals in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province, according to the city of Seoul, which said it will instruct crematoria to burn more bodies per day as part of plans to support funeral procedures. .

An estimated 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon for the country’s largest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began. The South Korean government had eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.

More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in a mass incident during the Halloween festivities. (Source: CNN)

While Halloween is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go trick-or-treating, it is still a big draw for young adults, and costume parties at bars and clubs have become very popular in recent years. years.

Seoul’s top Halloween destination is Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of the US military in South Korea operated for decades before moving out of the capital in 2018. The expat-friendly district is known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants.

Witnesses said the streets were so densely packed with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was virtually impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to quickly reach the alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a week-long national mourning on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff. About 100 businesses in the Hotel Hamilton area agreed to close their stores through Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would be out on the streets on Halloween.

During a televised address, Yoon said that supporting the families of the victims, including preparing for their funeral, and treating the injured would be one of his government’s top priorities. She also asked officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other major cultural and entertainment events.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that did not have to happen took place in the heart of Seoul in the middle of the Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “I feel heavy and I cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the life and safety of the people.”

After the speech, Yoon visited the alley where the disaster occurred. Local TV footage showed Yoon surveying the garbage-filled alley and being briefed by emergency officials.

World leaders offered their condolencesincluding Pope Francis.

“Let us pray to the Risen Lord also for those, especially the young people, who died last night in Seoul, due to the tragic consequences of a sudden crushing,” Francis said after his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, inviting the crowd to pray for the victims

Among the 20 foreigners who died there are four from China; three from Russia; two from Iran; and one each from Vietnam, Austria, Norway, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and the United States, the Interior Ministry said. He added that the nationalities of the other four foreigners have not been confirmed.

the university of kentucky released a statement saying the victims included one of his students who was studying in South Korea this semester with an education abroad program.

Some local media said the foreign death count had risen to 26. France and Thailand said one each and Japan said two of its citizens had also died during the Itaewon disaster, but South Korea’s Interior Ministry could not confirm. reports immediately.

The surge in crowds was South Korea’s deadliest disaster since 2014, when 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking.

The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was attributed in part to excessive and poorly secured cargo and a poorly trained crew for emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths are likely to draw public scrutiny of what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

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Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Giada Zampano in Rome and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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