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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday announced a period of national mourning after the deadly stampede that killed at least 151 people on Saturday in an alley in Seoul’s Itaewon district during Halloween celebrations. Deploring “a tragedy and a disaster”, the president promised his compatriots a “rigorous” investigation.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday (October 30) promised a “rigorous” investigation into the stampede that killed at least 151 people the night before in central Seoul, where tens of thousands of revelers, for most of them very young, celebrating Halloween for the first time after the pandemic.
Lamenting ‘a tragedy and disaster that should not have happened’, the president vowed his government would investigate ‘rigorously’ to determine the causes of the disaster, one of the most serious in South Korea’s recent history , and ensure that it “does not happen again”.
“I have a heavy heart and it is difficult for me to contain my sorrow”, added in a televised address the head of state, who went to the scene of the tragedy on Sunday morning, dressed in the green jacket of the emergency relief, and declared national mourning.
Bodies lined up on the sidewalk under blankets or other makeshift shrouds, cardiac massages performed in the street by passers-by at the request of overwhelmed firefighters, people in disguise or in evening dress running in panic: the night turned into a nightmare in Itaewon , a district located near a former American military base and known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its bars and all kinds of party places in a maze of narrow streets.
“My friend told me: there is something terrible happening outside,” said Jeon Ga-eul, 30, who was having a drink in a bar at the time of the tragedy. “I answered him: but what are you talking about? I went out to see, and I saw people doing cardio-respiratory massages”.
The crash happened around 10:00 p.m. Saturday (1300 GMT) near the Hamilton Hotel, located on a main avenue surrounded by steeply sloping lanes. The crowd movement, which we do not know for the moment what triggered it, left at least 151 dead, including 19 foreigners of various nationalities, 97 women and 54 men, firefighters told AFP. They added that the disaster left 89 people injured.
Among the foreigners killed are people from Iran, China, Uzbekistan and Norway, according to the Yonhap news agency. Two Russians are also among the dead, according to the Tass agency.
Seoul authorities also reported 355 people missing early Sunday morning.
“As in a Grave”
“People were on top of each other like in a grave. Some were gradually losing consciousness, others were obviously dead,” an unidentified witness told Yonhap.
Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to the victims, described scenes of chaos and horror.
“When I first tried to perform CPR, there were two victims lying on the sidewalk. But soon after the number exploded,” he told YTN television.
“Many passers-by came to help us perform heart massage,” he continued. “It’s hard to describe in words… Many of the victims had pale faces. I couldn’t take their pulse or control their breathing, and many of them had bloody noses.”
A video shared on Twitter by a surfer claiming to have been in Itaewon at the time of the tragedy shows hundreds of people, many in cowboy, pirate or other attire, in a street lined with bars. The scene, calm at first, suddenly turns to confusion. Passersby are pushed and fall on top of each other between screams and panic. A woman swears in English: “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
First party after Covid
About 100,000 people, according to media estimates, had come to Itaewon for the Halloween holiday, the first in Seoul since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The size of the crowd expected in Itaewon was not much different from previous years, so I believe the personnel deployed were on a similar scale as before,” Interior Minister Lee Sang- said. min, adding that a “considerable number” of police officers were at the same time in another district of the capital to supervise a large demonstration.
A moved thought this evening for the inhabitants of Seoul and for all the Korean people after the drama of Itaewon. France is at your side.
—Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 29, 2022
Many international leaders have expressed their dismay. “We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who have been injured,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“I am terribly shocked and deeply saddened” by this accident “which took too many precious lives, including those of young people who had a future ahead of them,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “a moved thought for the inhabitants of Seoul and for all the Korean people”. “It’s a sad day for South Korea,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted.