World News

3 tragedies in Asia kill hundreds in 1 month


Seoul, South Korea — More than 400 people died in October in a series of crowd-related disasters in Asia, when a bridge packed with revelers collapsed in India, Halloween revelers were crushed in the South Korean capital and Spectators fled a stadium in Indonesia after police fired tear gas.

The dynamics in the three situations were distinct, although experts say poor planning and crowd management contributed to the disasters in Indonesia and South Korea. In India, authorities are investigating whether the recently repaired bridge was properly inspected.

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In Seoul, 156 people died when more than 100,000 flocked to the popular nightlife district of Itaewon on Saturday for Halloween celebrations, the first since the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

The neighborhood’s narrow, sloping alleys became crowded, leading to what experts call “crowd turbulence”. This is when the people are so crowded together that they don’t have full control of their movements, and the crowd moves as one continuous body.

“It doesn’t force anyone to misbehave, it doesn’t force anyone to push aggressively or intentionally,” said Milad Haghani, a researcher at Australia’s University of New South Wales, Sydney.

It’s well documented that when crowd densities reach estimated levels during the Itaewon celebration, people will fall, setting off a domino effect, said Haghani, who studied more than 275 mob-related tragedies dating back to 1902.

But it’s also preventable, he says.

Seoul authorities were criticized for having 137 officers on hand Saturday to deal with such a large crowd. The authorities regularly send numerous other police officers to control demonstrations in the capital.

Yoon Hee Keun, commissioner general of Korea’s National Police Agency, told a televised news conference on Tuesday that he felt a “heavy responsibility” for the loss of life.

Looking at past celebrations and taking into account the end of COVID-19 restrictions, authorities could easily have anticipated large crowds, Haghani said.

More important than the extra police, South Korean authorities could have employed crowd control experts to monitor the flow of people and prevent the area from becoming as crowded as it did, he said.

Lessons learned from well-studied tragedies like Germany’s 2010 Love Parade disaster, where 21 people died trying to leave an area through a bottleneck, make crowd turbulence situations predictable when experts watch, did he declare.

“It’s really disappointing to see that despite all the experience of the experts, all the studies, all the conclusions and everything that has been done, it has happened again in another country, in another place, and it has actually resulted in the deaths of many more people,” Haghani said.

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Indonesia is still investigating the October 1 tragedy at a football stadium in which 135 people died, including dozens of children. Police fired tear gas into the stadium, where some gates were locked, after a crowd of 42,000 spilled onto the pitch, sending them rushing for the exits and causing a crush.

Soehatman Ramli, chairman of the World Security Organization in Indonesia, told The Associated Press that the case shows what can happen without a proper risk management plan and emergency response plans. emergency.

“These plans should include escape routes and crowd management to control panic situations,” Ramli said.

Already, police have said Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang City lacks a proper operating certificate and criminal charges will be brought against six people for negligence, including the three officers who authorized or ordered officers to use tear gas.

Authorities have sacked police chiefs in East Java province and Malang district and suspended other officers for violating professional ethics.

An investigation team set up by President Joko Widodo found that tear gas was the main cause of the tragedy – a finding according to Haghani was not surprising.

“Experience has shown that tear gas in a sports stadium is a recipe for disaster, in that it agitates the crowds, creates a tendency to fight back in the crowd and more aggressive behavior” , did he declare.

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After the collapse last weekend of a recently repaired suspension bridge in the Indian state of Gujarat in which 134 people died, authorities announced the arrest of nine people, including government officials. bridge operator.

The 143-year-old bridge reopened four days before Sunday’s collapse under the weight of hundreds of people celebrating during the Hindu festival season.

Security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to cling to its cables and metal fencing before the aluminum gangway gave way and crashed into the river.

The bridge split in the middle with its dangling walkway and broken cables.

Investigations are still ongoing, but a local official told the Indian Express newspaper that the company had reopened the bridge without first obtaining a “certificate of fitness”.

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The three October disasters are a reminder of the variety of ways authorities are tasked with ensuring public safety, said Dirk Helbing, a computational social science professor at ETH Zurich who studies crowd dynamics.

“Over the past decades, science has provided many new ideas and tools to help with crowd safety and management,” he said. “I hope this knowledge will spread quickly and thus help to avoid disasters in the future.”

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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this story.

ABC News

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