Seoul, South Korea –
At least 146 people have been killed and 150 others injured in a stampede during Halloween festivities in Seoul, officials have said in one of South Korea’s biggest disasters that will likely raise serious questions about public safety standards.
The massive death toll is being tallied after people were crushed by a large crowd pushing forward down a narrow alley in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhoods, a major entertainment and nightlife district of the capital.
Choi Seong-Beom, fire chief of Yongsan in Seoul, said the death toll could rise and an unknown number of injured were in critical conditions after the stampede in Itaewon on Saturday night.
He said the bodies were sent to hospitals or a gymnasium, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said earlier that most of the dead and injured were in their 20s.
More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed, including approximately 520 firefighters and 1,100 police and 70 government employees. The National Fire Agency said in a statement that all available rescue workers in Seoul have been mobilized.
Around 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon – near a former US military forces headquarters in an area known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants – for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the start. of the pandemic. The South Korean government has eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.
A survivor said many people fell and toppled “like dominoes” after being pushed by others down a narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said some people shouted “Help me!” and others were out of breath. Kim described being stomped on by other people for about an hour and a half before being rescued, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.
Another survivor, named Lee Chang-Kyu, said he saw about five to six men start pushing the others before one or two started falling one by one at the start of the stampede, according to the newspaper.
The stampede is the biggest disaster since 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking in April 2014. The sinking revealed lax safety rules and regulatory failures, as it was partly blamed on excessive and ill-secured cargo and an ill-trained crew. emergency situations. Friday’s stampede is likely to provoke public criticism of government officials over what they have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.
Television footage and photos showed ambulances lined up in the streets amid a heavy police presence and rescue workers moving the injured on stretchers. Rescuers and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying in the streets. In one section, paramedics were seen checking the condition of a dozen or more people who lay motionless under blue blankets.
In an interview with the YTN news channel, Hwang Min-Hyeok, one of the Itaewon visitors, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies lying in the alley near the Hamilton Hotel. He said rescuers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to injured people lying in the streets. People were crying next to the bodies, he said.
Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being stepped on by chance entering a bar with an open door in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her twenties, surnamed Park, told Yonhap that she and others stood along the alley as others were caught in the middle.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement calling on authorities to ensure prompt treatment of the injured and review the safety of party venues. He also asked the health ministry to quickly deploy disaster medical assistance teams and secure beds in the nearby hospital to treat the injured.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has sent emergency text messages urging area residents to return home quickly.
There have been deadly stampedes in South Korea in the past.
In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured during a stampede at a pop concert in the southern town of Sangju. In 1992, a teenage girl died and dozens of others were injured in a stampede at a Seoul concert by American pop group New Kids on the Block.
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