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Witnesses say 'it was like a hell' inside South Korean crush

A stunned Seoul is beginning to unearth the extent of a Halloween crowd surge that killed more than 150 mostly young people out enjoying festivities in the party neighborhood of Itaewon on Saturday

Foster Klug,Hyung-Jin Kim
Monday 31 October 2022 00:55 GMT

In one moment, thousands of Halloween revelers crammed into the narrow, vibrant streets of Seoul’s most cosmopolitan neighborhood, eager to show off their capes, wizard hats and bat wings.

In the next, panic spread as an unmanageable mass of people jammed into a narrow alley in Itaewon. Toppled revelers stacked on one another "like dominoes" in a chaotic crush so intense that clothes were ripped off.

A stunned Seoul was just beginning on Monday to put together the huge scope of the crowd surge that killed mostly people in their 20s and 30s, including foreign nationals, on Saturday night. As of Sunday evening, officials put the death toll at 153 and the number of injured people at 133. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said it expected the death toll to rise on account of the number of injured people in serious conditions.

Witnesses say the nightmarish scene intensified as people performed CPR on the dying and carried limp bodies to ambulances, while dance music pulsed from garish clubs lit in bright neon. Others tried desperately to pull out those who were trapped underneath the crush of people, but failed because too many in the crowd had fallen on top of them.

Some people were unable to move at all for 40 minutes.

“We were just stuck together so tightly we couldn’t even shift to call out and report the situation,” said one witness, surnamed Lee. “We were strangers, but we held each others’ hands and repeatedly shouted out, ‘Let’s survive!’”

Kim Mi Sung, a witness who works for a non-profit organization in Itaewon, told The Associated Press that nine out of the 10 people she gave CPR to eventually died. Many were bleeding from their noses and mouths. Most were women dressed as witches or were in other Halloween costumes; two were foreigners.

“It was like a hell,” Kim said. “I still can't believe what happened.”

In this ultra-wired, high-tech country, anguish, terror and grief — as well as many of the details of what happened — are playing out most vividly on social media. Users posted messages desperately seeking friends and loved ones, as witnesses and survivors described what they went through.

“I thought I was dying," one woman said in posts on Twitter. "My entire body was stuck among everyone else, while people laughed from a terrace and videotaped us. I thought I would really die if I cried out. I stretched my hands out to (others) who were above me and I managed to get out.”

An unidentified female witness in her 20s wept as she described the scene to the Yonhap news agency: “It looked like the graves of people piled upon one another. Some of them were slowly losing consciousness and others seemed to have already died."

A male witness, surnamed Kong, said he managed to escape to a nearby bar with his friends after the crush happened. He saw through the bar windows that people were falling on top of each other “like dominoes,” Yonhap reported.

Friends and family members gathered at a local government office to try to find news about the missing.

“I haven’t heard from my child. How can I sleep when my child hasn’t returned home?” an unidentified woman said, according to footage from Yonhap News TV.

One Twitter user posted a series of messages asking for information about a 17-year-old friend who had gone to Itaewon to celebrate wearing a hairband that looked like cat ears.

“I lost contact with her. She’s been a friend of mine for 12 years, and we were like family. Please help me,” the message said.

Even after the crush, some witnesses said they saw some revelers not immediately making way for emergency vehicles, rescuers and police officers. One viral video clip on Twitter showing a crowd of young people dancing and singing near the carnage drew several insults from South Koreans.

___

Jee-won Jeong contributed to this story from Bangkok.

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