A crowd of mostly young people celebrating Halloween in Seoul became trapped and crushed as hundreds surged into a narrow alley, killing at least 153 people and injuring 150 others in South Korea’s worst disaster in years.
Emergency workers and pedestrians desperately performed CPR on people, most of them in their 20s, lying in the streets after the crush.
An estimated 100,000 people had gathered for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities but the city’s marquee Halloween destination soon turned into a death trap.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday announced a period of national mourning and ordered the lowering of flags.
In addition to the 128 South Koreans confirmed killed by the government so far, multiple citizens from Iran, China, Russia, Japan and the US were also among the fatalities.
According to government reports, 26 foreigners in total died from the crush of people in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district.
Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said the death toll could rise further and that an unspecified number among the injured were in critical condition.
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.
Majority of victims in Seoul Halloween disaster were young women in their 20s, officials said, who died due to being suffocated in the tightly-packed crowd in the narrow, sloping alleyway at the heart of the accident.
Witnesses said many people appeared not to realize the disaster that was unfolding steps away from them. Some clad in Halloween costumes continued to sing and dance nearby as others lay lifeless on the ground.
As the death toll crossed 150, South Korea is canceling events from government briefings to K-pop concerts.
The incident has killed citizens from at least 15 nations, prompting an outpouring of grief and offers of help from governments around the world.
Maeil, a South Korean business newspaper, said it was the biggest loss of life among foreigners in the country since 2007, when a fire in an immigration office killed 9 foreigners.
South Korean officials have created an investigation team with 475 officials, media outlet Yonhap reported on Monday. The team has secured footage from dozens of closed circuit televisions and begun witness interviews.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden were among world leaders expressing condolences in the aftermath of the tragedy.
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: AFP)