More than 150 killed in 'hell-like' Halloween crowd surge

Witnesses said the crowd surge in a Seoul's Itaewon area on Saturday night caused 'a hell-like' chaos.

South Korea mourns as more than 150 killed in Halloween party crowd surge in Seoul iStock

Concerned relatives rushed to hospitals in search of their loved ones on Sunday, as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people.

Those dead were mostly in their teens and 20s, and were crushed after a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul.

Witnesses said the crowd surge in the Itaewon area on Saturday night caused “a hell-like” chaos as people fell on each other “like dominos”.

Some people were bleeding from their noses and mouths while being given CPR, they said, while others clad in Halloween costumes continued to sing and dance nearby, possibly without knowing the severity of the situation.

The crowd surge is the country’s worst disaster in years.

“Horrific news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”

Tens of thousands of people were believed to have gathered in Itaewon for Halloween festivities.

Witnesses said the streets were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to quickly reach the alley near the Hamilton Hotel.

There were concerns the death toll could grow, as 24 people among the 104 being treated for injuries were in critical condition, according to Seoul City’s disaster headquarters.

The city government said more than 2,600 people had called or visited a nearby city office as of Saturday afternoon, reporting missing relatives and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crush.

The dead included 19 foreigners, said Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, whose jurisdiction includes Itaewon.

South Korea’s foreign ministry did not confirm the nationalities of those victims, but said it has alerted those countries’ embassies in Seoul. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said at least three Chinese nationals were killed.

Around 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area have agreed to shut their shops on Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would come to the streets on Halloween.

An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began. The South Korean government eased Covid-19 restrictions in recent months.

While it is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, it is still a major attraction for young adults – with costume parties at bars and clubs have become hugely popular in recent years.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a one-week national mourning period on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-mast.

During a televised speech, he said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and the treatment of the injured will be a top priority for his government.

He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events to ensure they proceed safely.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” he said. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.

Fire department chief Mr Choi said bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured were in their 20s.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted that reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington “stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs”.

Saturday’s tragedy is Asia’s second major crushing disaster in a month.

On October 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.

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