(TRIGGER WARNING: This story has potentially upsetting content. Readers should exercise caution.)
At least 151 people have been killed, including 19 foreigners, in a deadly stampede in South Korea, according to media reports on Sunday.
A total of 82 others, with 19 in serious condition, were also injured, said Yonhap News Agency, citing fire authorities.
The death toll is currently made up of 97 women and 54 men, according to Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department.
The foreigners killed in the deadliest stampede in South Korea’s history include nationals from Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Norway, he added.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a national mourning period following the deadly accident.
“It’s truly horrific,” said Yoon, adding that the “tragedy and disaster should never have happened.”
Victims in their 20s accounted for the age group most affected by the accident, authorities said.
The Seoul metropolitan government said it received 355 missing reports related to the stampede.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon cut short his trip to Europe to return home, the news agency noted, citing his office.
The stampede occurred near the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon’s entertainment zone Saturday night after a large number of people were believed to have entered a narrow alley.
Tens of thousands of people were visiting the area for Halloween parties.
It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after South Korea lifted many coronavirus restrictions.
People shoved in narrow alley causes Itaewon stampede: witnesses
Witnesses and survivors on Sunday said an overnight stampede that killed at least 151 people occurred after a massive group of people celebrating Halloween surged into a narrow downhill alley and were instantly pushed down by others.
The deadliest stampede in South Korea’s history happened Saturday night in the alley near Hamilton Hotel in the famous nightlife district of Itaewon after tens of thousands of people visited the area for Halloween.
A total of 151 people, including 19 foreigners, have been killed and 82 others injured, fire authorities said, adding the death toll could rise further.
“People kept pushing down into a downhill club alley, resulting in other people screaming and falling down like dominos,” an unidentified witness wrote on Twitter. “I thought I would be crushed to death too as people kept pushing without realizing there were people falling down at the start of the stampede.”
A woman in her 20s said the accident occurred after a massive crowd of people were pushed back and forth for some time, which then led her friend to be pinned down under the crowd.
Another female survivor in her 20s, surnamed Park, said the stampede erupted as people flocked into the small street in a short period of time.
“A short person like me could not even breathe,” Park said. “(I) could survive as I was located on the sideline of the alley. It looks like people in the middle suffered the most.”
Other survivors, meanwhile, blamed the owners of bars and clubs nearby, who allegedly blocked people from escaping from the overcrowded alley.
“It looks like the casualties were more severe as people attempted to escape to nearby stores but were kicked out back to the street because business hours were over,” said the survivor who asked not to be named.
355 reports of missing persons
The Seoul metropolitan government said Sunday it has received 355 reports of missing persons related to a deadly stampede during Halloween parties in the Itaewon district.
The city said it is receiving reports of missing people related to the Halloween accident and handing them over to police.
Some 60 staff members have been assigned to about 50 hospitals to support bereaved families of the victims, many in their late teens and 20s, it added.
President Yoon Suk-yeol announced a period of national mourning and ordered the lowering of flags after a deadly stampede.
Yoon addressed the nation live from the presidential office a day after a crowd surge in a narrow alley in Itaewon crushed scores of young revelers, many in their 20s.
“It’s truly horrific,” Yoon said, saying Saturday’s “tragedy and disaster should never have happened.”
“As president, who is responsible for the people’s lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief,” he said. “The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning and will place top priority in administrative affairs in recovery and follow-up measures.”
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo later told reporters that the mourning period would last from Sunday until Saturday at Yoon’s instructions and that a mourning altar would be set up in downtown Seoul to allow people to pay tribute to the victims.
Han spoke following a government response meeting presided over by Yoon, saying those injured and families of the victims would also receive financial assistance in line with Yongsan Ward’s designation as a special disaster zone.
During the mourning period, all public servants will be required to wear mourning ribbons.
Yoon expressed his condolences over the deaths and wished a speedy recovery for the injured, saying in his address that the government will support funeral preparations and fully mobilize emergency medical services to treat patients, including by assigning public servants individually to those requiring assistance.
“The most important thing is to determine the cause of the accident and prevent similar accidents,” he said. “We will thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and make fundamental improvements so that similar accidents do not happen again in the future.”
Yoon also said he will instruct the interior ministry and other relevant ministries to carry out an emergency review of all Halloween celebrations and other local festivals to ensure they are conducted in an orderly and safe manner.
Immediately after the address, Yoon visited the site of the accident before heading to the government complex in central Seoul to preside over the government response meeting.
He also ordered all government offices to lower their flags to half-mast, according to his office. (Anadolu/Yonhap via PNA)