South Korea crush: what happened at Halloween 2022 event? Stampede in Seoul explained as 154 people die
Young South Koreans were celebrating Halloween 2022 in Seoul’s Itaewon district when the tragic incident happened
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At least 154 people in South Korea have been killed after a deadly crush at a Halloween event in the country’s capital Seoul.
The stampede, which injured a further 149 people - more than 30 seriously - has led to a national period of mourning in the East Asian country. It is one of the world’s worst such disasters and comes just weeks after more than 130 people were killed in a stadium disaster in Indonesia.
So, what do we currently know about what caused the Halloween crush in South Korea?
Where is South Korea?
South Korea is a small, densely populated country in eastern Asia. It sits close to China, Japan and Russia but only shares a land border with North Korea. The country is otherwise surrounded by the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and Sea of Japan.
Its capital Seoul sits kilometres away from the border to its reclusive northern neighbour, from which it was separated during the Korean war between 1950 and 1953.
The Halloween crush took place in Seoul’s Itaewon district, a tightly packed urban area close to the heart of the city that’s known for its nightlife and eateries. It has a large expat community, which is due in part to the former presence of the US Army in the district. American forces were based there until they moved out of the city in 2018.
What caused South Korea crush?
An estimated 100,000 people - most in their 20s and 30s - were out in Seoul to celebrate Halloween 2022 on Saturday night (29 October) when the incident happened. These festivities were centred on the Itaewon district.
While Halloween is not marked in the same way as it is in the West, it has become a popular night out in South Korea in recent years. While children rarely trick or treat, young people attend parties and club nights in costume. This year’s celebration was especially busy given it was the first to be held since the country relaxed its strict Covid-19 rules.
We do not yet know why the crush happened. But what has been established is that most of the deaths took place when a large crowd of people were forced down a narrow downhill alleyway close to the Hamilton Hotel at around 10.15pm (1.15pm UK time) on Saturday evening.
A report from the PA news agency quoted one survivor as saying people fell over each other “like dominoes” as people from behind were pushed into the 3.2 metre wide lane. Local media have described the throughfare as being so small that six people would struggle to walk side-by-side along it.
Some people were trapped for an hour and a half before being rescued and reported hearing cries for help and people saying they couldn’t breathe. Others escaped by diving into nearby bars and restaurants - although there have been reports some business owners made the crush worse by closing off their premises to people.
Witnesses have reported that the streets close to the incident were so densely packed that emergency services struggled to get to the site of the crush. Passersby attempted to perform CPR on the victims, with reports that many were bleeding from the mouth and nose having been crushed.
At least 154 people have died according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Most of the dead (97 at present) were women as the authorities say their smaller frames combined with heavy costumes to worsen the effects of the crush. The death toll is expected to rise as 37 people are reported to be in a critical condition. Overall, 149 people are said to be injured.
Among the dead are 26 foreign nationals. No British people were involved, but casualties include foreign nationals from China, Iran, Russia, the US, France, Australia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Austria. 15 other foreigners are said to have been injured.
The bodies of the dead are being kept at 42 hospitals across Seoul and in nearby Gyeonggi province, according to local authorities in Seoul. Crematoria are being instructed to burn more bodies per day ahead of the dozens of expected funerals that are due to take place in the coming days.
Families who have lost their loved ones will be provided with funeral expenses and compensation. Those who have been injured will have their medical costs paid for by the government.
Around 100 businesses in the immediate vicinity of the Itaewon alleyway have agreed to close on Monday (31 October) to reduce the number of people visiting the district for Halloween. Events related to 31 October that were due to take place across South Korea have also been cancelled.
What has been the reaction in South Korea?
People in South Korea have started to mourn those who died in the incident, the majority of whom (98) were young women. A week-long national period of mourning has been declared, with flags flying at half-mast and a mourning altar set up in downtown Seoul so the public can pay their respects to the dead.
In a televised address to the nation, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the tragedy and review the safety of other large public events to ensure they are safe.
“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.”
Mr Yoon has since visited the scene of the disaster. He has instructed his government to find a way of implementing better crowd control for spontaneous events.
There are expectations that the public sadness in South Korea could soon turn into anger. The Halloween crush has come more than 8 years after a ferry disaster that killed 304 people in April 2014, most of whom were high school students.
At the time, it exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures the state pledged to fix. Saturday’s deaths are now likely to lead to greater scrutiny of what the government has done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster. It has already emerged that only 137 officers had been deployed to Itaewon to maintain order - although this figure is much higher than for pre-pandemic Halloween festivities.
South Korean police have begun to analyse CCTV and social media footage from the Itaewon district in a bid to find out what led to the crush. The government has also launched a taskforce of 475 people to investigate the stampede. Forensic experts are continuing to search the site.
Additional reporting by PA news agency