South Korea mourns Halloween stampede deaths as toll surpasses 150

Seoul, Oct 30 (EFE).- South Korea’s government on Sunday declared a period of national mourning and promised a full investigation after more than 150 people died and 82 were injured in a Halloween crush at a crowded nightlife area.

The Asian nation has been shocked by the tragedy that occurred around 10.22pm local time on Saturday night in a narrow street near the Hamilton Hotel in the Itaewon district of the capital, which is famed for its nightlife. 

The authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the crush.

Eyewitnesses and footage of the incident suggest it came about due to overcrowding on the narrow street that connects the neighborhood’s main avenue, Itaewon ro, to a busy area of bars and clubs. 

Hundreds of people were crushed in the dense crowds gathering for Halloween celebrations in Itaewon, with many of the victims dying from asphyxiation. 

The cordoned off area where a deadly stampede took place the previous day in Seoul, South Korea, 30 October 2022. EFE/EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN

FROM PARTY ATMOSPHERE TO PANIC

Footage shared widely on social media showed emergency service workers trying to extract people from the crowd. Other videos showed paramedics and members of the public attempting to resuscitate dozens of victims. 

Eyewitnesses have criticized a lack of police presence in the popular neighborhood, which attracts tens of thousands of revelers during the Halloween period. 

Residents of the capital have raised questions over the lack of planning in a city known for its effective crowd control during the almost weekly mass rallies. 

Many of the 153 people confirmed to have died in the crush so far were in their 20s, and around 100 were women, according to the Yongsan fire department. 

Among the dozens injured, 19 are in a serious condition, meaning the death toll could rise further. 

The dead included 19 foreigners from China, Japan, Austria, France, Norway, Russia, the United States, Australia, Iran, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Sri Lanka, authorities said. 

The Seoul government said it had received reports of 335 missing people in the wake of the crush. 

Nearly 500 city police officers were on Sunday assigned with the task of investigating the scene and identifying victims. 

The small street where the tragedy took place and other nearby streets remained cordoned off on Sunday. 

A woman lays flowers where a deadly stampede took place the previous day in Seoul, South Korea, 30 October 2022. EFE/EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN

A WEEK OF OFFICIAL MOURNING

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol Sunday declared a period of national mourning that will last until next Saturday. 

In a televised address to the nation, Yoon said he ordered a probe into the “truly horrific…tragedy and disaster (that) should never have happened.”

“As president, who is responsible for the people’s lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief,” Yoon said.

“The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning and will place top priority in administrative affairs in recovery and follow-up measures.”

He said the “most important thing” was to determine the cause of the accident and prevent similar tragedies.

This year’s Halloween celebrations were the first to go ahead full-scale since 2019 due the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every year the Itaewon neighborhood, adjacent to a US military base and a well-known nightlife area, becomes the busiest place to celebrate Halloween.

The stampede, which marked the worst tragedy in South Korea since the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol that killed 304 people, injured more than 80 people near the Hamilton Hotel opposite the Itaewon subway station.

Condolences poured in from several international heads of state and government.

United States President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden expressed their “deepest condolences” to the families who lost loved ones.

“We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured,” Biden said in a statement.

“The alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital – and the ties between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time,” he said. EFE

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