At least 146 people were killed and dozens others injured after a large crowd was crushed in a crowd surge during Halloween festivities in downtown Seoul Saturday night.
Videos posted on social media showed people performing chest compressions on others who were lying on the ground as ambulance lights lit up the street. The Associated Press reported that people were crushed to death after the crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley outside Hamilton Hotel in the capital city’s popular Itaewon district. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crowd to surge.
Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said early Sunday that the death toll could still rise and that an unknown number of those injured were in critical condition, according to the AP. Many of the dead were sent to hospitals while the bodies of dozens of others who were killed were being transported to a nearby gym to be identified, Seong-beom said. Most of those killed or injured are in their 20s.
A survivor who got stuck in the crush of people told Hankyoreh, a South Korean newspaper, that he waited over an hour to be rescued. “I heard voices asking for help here and there, and I saw people who couldn’t breathe,” the survivor, identified as Mr. Kim, said.
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Washington Post reporter Kelly Kasulis Cho described the scene as chaotic in a series of tweets, saying that as she looked out across the horizon all she could see were “dozens of red ambulance lights flashing.”
Janelle Story, 35, told BuzzFeed News she was going on a bar crawl when she came across the crowds in the street. By 8:30 p.m., Story, an American who lives in Seoul, said the area was already full of people. “Even just getting out of the subway station was intimidating,” she said via Twitter messages early Sunday. “It took 20 minutes to exit the station.”
As she was moving from bar to bar near Hamilton Hotel, she said the crowds were packed tightly together, but nothing at that point seemed to be dangerous.
“Even though I was uncomfortable, no one was ‘out of control,'” she said. “We were all just moving very slowly and orderly.”
But then around 10:30 p.m., Story said she started to feel more panicked by the situation as she was capturing footage of the scene, which she posted to Twitter.
“Even in the video we’re just casually meandering our way and suddenly this wave of panic rushed us,” she said. “So I stopped filming because it got too scary.
Story said she and her friends took cover in a nearby bar. They then tried to retrace their steps to head back to a different bar, but another person in the street told them to turn around because someone had passed out.
“We heard a few other people say ‘someone’s fainted’ or ‘someone’s passed out’ and in Korean I could hear people saying ‘go back’ or ‘turn around,'” she said. “But in that moment, and even when I posted the video, I really only thought maybe it was one or two people that got caught in the stampede? I had no idea the scale of it.”
As they left the area, Story said she saw ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles make their way toward the alley. “Even with all of that I still had no idea just how huge the tragedy would become,” she said.