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South Korea in mourning after Halloween Seoul mob kills at least 153 people

SEOUL, South Korea — As morning rolled into Seoul’s Itaewon district, calm reigned at the scene of the tragedy where at least 153 people died in what should have been a night of Halloween celebrations.

Some sat stunned on the sidewalk, still trying to process the events of the night, while groups of stragglers still in costume roamed the streets as police blocked alley entrances. Emergency vehicles stood idle.

“How could this happen?” Lee Da-eum, 25, asked NBC News.

She said she was at a nearby club when she heard there had been an accident outside. “Then my mum started calling and texting after seeing the news,” she said. “She knew I was coming here and she was so worried.”

She said she noticed the area was getting crowded even though she arrived early for the night’s celebrations.

Lee was one of the lucky ones.

What we know about the deadly Seoul incident

  • At least 153 people were killed and 103 injured, officials said.
  • Two US citizens were among the dead, a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Seoul confirmed to NBC News.
  • Of the injured, 23 are in critical condition, while 79 have less serious injuries.
  • Survivors reported people in the packed crowd falling over each other and being trampled as they were pushed through narrow alleyways in the popular nightlife district.
  • Health workers and bystanders administered CPR to people on the streets, and officials said all available first aiders in the city had been mobilised.

During the day on Sunday, the death toll continued to rise. The Yongsan Fire Department said in an update that 153 people were killed and 103 injured in the crowds grew on Saturday night as thousands turned out for the Halloween festivities in the popular nightlife district.

Two U.S. citizens were among the dead, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul confirmed to NBC News on Sunday. “Our staff in Seoul and our colleagues in the United States are working tirelessly to provide consular assistance to the victims of last night’s incident and their families,” the spokesperson said.

The embassy did not provide any details about the victims, such as their age or identity.

Yongsan firefighters said in a statement that the other foreign victims came from China, Iran, France, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Austria and Kazakhstan. Of the injured, 23 are in critical condition, while 79 have less serious injuries. Most of the victims were people in their late teens and twenties, said Choi Seong-beom, fire chief of Yongsan in Seoul.

At least 90% of the victims had been identified by Sunday noon; there were delays in identifying some foreign nationals and teenagers under the age of 17 who did not yet have identity cards, South Korea’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Although Halloween is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, Itaewon is known for its costume parties at bars and clubs, which have grown in popularity in recent years.

Rescuers on Sunday.Jung Yeon-je / AFP – Getty Images

Benedict Manlapaz, 23, said he was unaware of the scale of the tragedy as he walked through the crowds, but it became clear when he saw emergency services arriving in large numbers from a café where he hung out with his friends.

He said he saw “bodies lined up next to each other, all covered in blue bags.”

As worried relatives rushed to hospitals in search of loved ones, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared an indefinite period of national mourning in a televised address on Sunday.

“The grief is too much to bear,” he said. “We will fundamentally get to the root of the cause and ensure that such accidents never happen again,” he said, calling for a thorough investigation.

Prime Minister Han Duk-soo later said the mourning period would continue until November 5.

The last great tragedy in South Korea also affected young people. In April 2014, more than 300 people, mostly high school students, died when a ferry sank in Seoul.

Stella Kim and Thomas Maresca reported from South Korea. Mithil Aggarwal reported from Hong Kong.

Associated press and Reuters contributed.

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