Human Lives Human Rights: At least 151 people were killed and between 65 to 150 more hurt in a stampede during Halloween festivities in the Itaewon district of Seoul, South Korea — the first outdoor, mask-free celebration of the holiday since the 2020 COVID pandemic, local media reported.
There were about 100,000 revelers out celebrating in the popular nightlife area, according to Yonhap News.
Officials warned the death toll could rise further, with 19 of the injured in serious condition.
Videos posted online showed people in fancy costumes being pushed through the narrow streets. Some appeared to climb walls on either side in an attempt to escape.
Other videos show body bags, emergency workers performing CPR and rescuers trying to pull unconscious people trapped beneath the crowd.
Pictures showed people lying in the streets near Itaewon’s Hamilton Hotel receiving first aid and being taken to ambulances.
Government officials sent emergency text messages urging people in the area to return home. More than 400 emergency workers and 140 vehicles were deployed.
Some celebrants were completely trapped in the elbow-to-elbow crowd, The Washington Post reported. The noise was too loud for many to call for help, the outlet said.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called an emergency meeting with senior aides and ordered medical teams to the area, the BBC and his office reported Saturday. Officials said 1,701 response personnel were on site, including 517 firefighters, 1,100 police and 70 government workers.
The Itaewon area was too crowded and it felt unsafe, some wrote on social media earlier in the evening.
Dozens of dead bodies were in the streets, Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, told reporters, noting just 13 dead bodies had been sent to the hospital.
“The area is still chaotic so we are still trying to figure out the exact number of people injured,” Moon Hyun-joo, an official at the National Fire Agency, said.
At least some of the victims were foreigners, according to reports.
Yoon ordered officials to identify the victims as quickly as possible for the sake of worried families. He also activated an emergency management headquarters and immediately put the country’s prime minister in charge of investigating the tragedy.
Seoul officials began hearing about people “buried” in the crowds there around 10:24 p.m. local time on Saturday.
“I saw the people going to the left side and I saw the person getting to the opposite side,” witness Song Sehyun told CNN. “The person in the middle got jammed, so they had no way to communicate. They could not breathe.”
Choi Seong-beom, the chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, told local reporters that the bodies had been sent to hospitals or a gym, where grieving family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured are in their 20s.
One survivor recalled revelers jammed on top of one another and how they fell “like dominos” after being pushed by other people along a narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel.
The survivor, whose last name is Kim, said some people shouted, “Help me!” but others were too short of breath to speak, NBC News reported.
Kim described being trampled by other people for 90 minutes before help came, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.