Seoul stampede: Fire chief shakes as he discusses victims in wake of tragedy
Emergency call transcripts from the hours and minutes prior to the huge crowd surge in South Korea which killed 156 people have revealed Halloween revellers’ fears of the impending disaster in Itaewon.
“People will get crushed to death here. It’s chaotic,” a caller said in one of 11 transcripts released by Seoul police. At least one caller urged the authorities to help ease the huge crowds, while another warned: “People are falling down on the streets, looks like there could be an accident.”
Police have since admitted “heavy responsibility“ for failures in preventing and responding to the crowd surge, with South Korea’s interior minister and Seoul’s mayor also offering public apologies amid growing public anger.
National police chief Yoon Hee Keun said police officers who received urgent calls from those in the crowds failed to handle them effectively, adding: “Police will do their best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”
President Yoon Suk-yeol has launched a major inquiry and called for new safety measures to prevent such a disaster from happening again.
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How did the Seoul stampede happen?
The Itaewon area, famous for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, is the country’s hottest spot for Halloween-themed events and parties, which had increasing popularity among young South Koreans in recent years.
An estimated 100,000 people were gathered there in the country’s largest Halloween celebrations since the pandemic began.
But some business owners in Itaewon say an even larger number of people gathered there in pre-pandemic Halloween weekend festivities.
Police said in a statement they fielded 137 officers to maintain order during Halloween festivities last Saturday — much more than the 34-90 officers mobilized in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Citing the figures, police dismissed as “different from the truth” speculations that a police station in the area suffered understaffing because it’s been providing extra security to Yoon, who relocated the country’s presidential office to a site near Itaewon.
The police statement said police-provided security for a president has long been handled by two special police units and that the units have nothing to do with the Yongsan police station, whose jurisdiction includes Itaewon.
Some observers say the scope of the police investigation would include an apparent lack of safety steps, as well as looking into witness accounts of the stampede being caused by some people intentionally pushing others and making them fall.
In pictures: Tributes left for those killed in the stampede
Hundreds of flowers and messages were left by those who have paid tribute to the victims of the Halloween stampede in Itaewon.
Personal messages and meaningful food dishes were left at the tribute site near the scene of the tragic incident.
Lee Ji-han: 24-year-old South Korean actor died in Seoul crowd crush, agency confirms
South Korean actor Lee Ji-han was among the 154 people to die in the crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul, on Saturday (29 October).
At least 132 other people are reported to be injured, including 37 in serious condition, with fears that the death toll could still rise.
An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in the city’s nightlife district for Halloween celebrations when the fatal crush occurred.
On Sunday (30 October), acting agencies 935 Entertainment and 9ato Entertainment confirmed that Lee had been killed in the disaster.
Louis Chilton has more:
Actor was among the 154 people who died in the tragedy in South Korea’s capital
King and Queen Consort express ‘deep shock and sadness’ over Seoul stampede
In a message of condolence to the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, the King said the UK “stands in solidarity” with the people of South Korea following the Halloween party crush in Seoul.
His message, signed Charles R., read: “I wanted you to know how deeply shocked and saddened both my wife and I are to hear of the many people who have lost their loved ones as a consequence of the recent, tragic incident in Itaewon, Seoul.
“However inadequate this may be under such heartbreaking circumstances, we extend our deepest possible sympathy to all the bereaved families. We also offer our special thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who suffered injury.
“Recalling our meeting during your own gracious visit to London to attend the funeral of Her late Majesty The Queen, please be assured that the United Kingdom stands in solidarity with the people of the Republic of Korea at such a time of national mourning.”
Families of foreign nationals killed in stampede share tributes
Of the 154 killed in the stampede, 26 people were foreign nationals.
One of the Americans killed was Anne Gieske, a University of Kentucky nursing student from northern Kentucky who was doing a study-abroad program in South Korea, the university said in a statement. The other was Steven Blesi, 20, his father, Steve Blesi, wrote on Twitter after earlier seeking information about his son.
Blesi appealed for information after not hearing from his son, asking, “If anyone has any news please share.” After a flood of responses offering help and support, he tweeted, “We just got confirmation our son died,” followed by “Thank you for the outpouring of love. We need time to grieve.”
Australian victim Grace Rached, a Sydney film production assistant, was described by her family as “our life of the party.” Her family said in a statement that “We are missing our gorgeous angel Grace, who lit up the room with her infectious smile.”
The Japanese dead included Mei Tomikawa, who was studying Korean language in Seoul, according to Japanese media. Her father, Ayumu Tomikawa, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that his daughter “really liked South Korea and was enjoying her life there.”
A look at some of the world's major crowd disasters
In case you missed it...
It has been confirmed that 154 people were killed and hundreds more were injured as they were crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital of Seoul, South Korea.
Here a look at some of the major crowd disasters around the world in recent decades:
At least 120 people were killed and 100 more were injured when they were crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital of Seoul, South Korea
South Korean families desperate for answers after loved ones crushed in Seoul tragedy
The loved ones of victims killed in a stampede in South Korea are searching for answers as the death toll tops 150.
Partygoers, mostly teenagers and young adults, flooded the streets of the neighbourhood of Itaewon in Seoul to enjoy the country’s first Halloween celebrations since the lifting of Covid restrictions.
But the night took a tragic turn as the crowd surged into “a hell-like” chaos and revellers fell on each other “like dominoes”.
My colleague Aisha Rimi has more:
The death toll has now topped 150 with scores more injured after the crowd surge in Itaewon, Seoul
South Korea’s deadly Halloween crush was avoidable, experts say- Part one
Proper crowd and traffic control by South Korean authorities could have prevented or at least reduced the surge of Halloween party-goers in alleys that led to a crush and the deaths of 154 people, safety experts said on Monday.
The annual festivities in the popular nightlife area of Itaewon in Seoul also did not have a central organising entity, which meant government authorities were not required to establish or enforce safety protocols.
District authorities for Yongsan, where Itaewon is located, discussed measures to prevent illegal drug use and the spread of COVID-19 during the Halloween weekend, according to a district press release. There was, however, no mention of crowd control.
On Saturday when the tragedy occurred, roughly 100,000 people were estimated to be in Itaewon, an area known for its hills and narrow alleys. According to Seoul Metro, some 81,573 people disembarked at Itaewon subway station on the day, up from around 23,800 a week earlier and about 35,950 on Friday.
But there were only 137 police officers in Itaewon at the time, the city of Seoul said.
In contrast, at rallies by labour unions and by supporters of President Yoon Suk-yeol that drew tens of thousands in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on the same Saturday, up to 4,000 police were deployed, a police official said.
“Police are now working on a thorough analysis of the incident’s cause,” Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min said on Monday.
“It’s not appropriate to make hasty conclusions before the exact cause is determined - whether it was caused by a lack of police or whether there is something that we should fundamentally change for rallies and gatherings.”
South Korea’s deadly Halloween crush was avoidable, experts say- Part two
Just two weeks before the tragic stampede, the Itaewon Global Village Festival organised by a tourism association and sponsored by the city of Seoul and Yongsan district, had people wearing yellow vests directing the flow of movement and the main road was closed to car traffic.
But on Saturday, there were just thousands of shops open for business, normal car traffic rules and tens of thousands of young people eager to celebrate Halloween without major Covid restrictions for the first time since the pandemic.
“Just because it’s not named a ‘festival’ doesn’t mean there should be any difference in terms of disaster management,” said Paek Seung-joo, a professor of fire & disaster protection at Open Cyber University of Korea.
“As there was no central authority, each government arm just did what they usually do - the fire department prepared for fires and the police prepared for crime. There needs to be a system where a local government takes the reins and cooperates with other authorities to prepare for the worst,” he said.
Moon Hyeon-cheol, a professor at the Graduate School of Disaster Safety Management at Soongsil University, said this type of crush had the potential to happen in any populous city.
“We need to take this tragedy and learn to prepare for the risk of disaster,” he said.
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