(CTN News) – For the first essentially unrestrained Halloween celebration in three years, young people flocked to Seoul’s well-known Itaewon area on Saturday. Instead, they were entangled in a horrific crash that claimed the lives of at least 153 people.
The mass of revellers, some still in their teens, were prepared to enjoy the pubs, nightclubs, and restaurants where the fun sometimes overflows onto winding, frequently steep side streets. Many of them were dressed in Halloween costumes.
But during the Halloween weekend, the cozy backstreets of Seoul’s Itaewon district took on a dark tone.
Early warning signals that the celebrations drew a potentially deadly number of people twenty-four hours beforehand. A Reuters witness saw the area on Friday night as it was thronged with people attending a Halloween street festival with stalls offering face painting, sweets, and costumes.
That throng showed up again the next day.
Thousands of revellers were drawn to the crowded passageways where so many young people, including at least 22 foreigners, would perish, according to officials, but there was no one organized event that did it.
However, there were social media postings from pubs and clubs promoting Halloween festivities and unique performances, including joint ventures at some of the top clubs.
Authorities are still looking into what caused the throng to swell, but social media video and eyewitness accounts showed people cramming into the streets for several blocks around the alley where many of the fatalities would occur.
Chaos broke out just before 10:20 p.m. (1320 GMT), with police having difficulty keeping the throng under control at times, according to witnesses.
Even though it was already completely occupied, people continued to flow into one especially small and inclining lane.
Social media video captured several individuals attempting to climb the buildings’ edges to escape the mounting pressure while others screamed, sobbed, or yelled.
According to witnesses, as individuals at the top of the hill collapsed, it caused others behind them to topple over one another.
Moon Ju-young, 21, said, “We came at 10 p.m. to go to a club but noticed people falling on the street. Some people were bleeding, while others were screaming in agony.
One French student, who requested anonymity due to the shock of the situation, said he spent an hour and a half trapped in a crowd of people.
He told Reuters, “I wanted to escape somewhere secure, but it wasn’t feasible. “Everyone was pushing me, and I simply couldn’t do anything.”
He said that despite having chest discomfort and an injured foot upon exit, he was moved by sympathy for those who had died or suffered more severe injuries and the rescuers who had laboriously sought to release those trapped.
He had less sympathy for individuals who attempted to force their way through the crowd, often making it more difficult for the rescuers to do their jobs by instilling calm and orderly behaviour in the mass of people.
He remarked, “I’m angry with them because they pushed everyone and didn’t realize it.
Social media videos showed a mass of victims jammed between two buildings; some seemed comatose at the bottom while others stretched out to rescuers attempting to remove them from the tangle.
Violence in Seoul’s Itaewon district
A 30-year-old doctoral student from Seoul stated, "A person immediately next to me collapsed, but others behind me proceeded to push me, and then more people went down and sort of heaped up on one another." "Don't push!" I yelled at those who were shoving me. People dropped!"
One mom said that after being imprisoned for more than an hour, her daughter was saved after being rescued from the crowd.
Onlookers, according to Moon, the young guy who saw victims on the street, seemed to contribute to the chaos as they tried to rescue friends.
According to Moon, people who attempted to forcefully breach the police line while claiming to have friends there were pulled out by police.
Officials expected up to 100,000 people to attend the celebrations, the first since the COVID-19 epidemic started in 2020 without significant COVID-19 restrictions.
However, they said deploying more police to the area than normal for a Halloween weekend—which often attracts TV stations to capture the throng and vibrant costumes—was not considered essential. Witnesses said that amid the crowds, it was difficult to see any significant police presence.
Every year, a large number of people congregate for Halloween, but last night, there were just so many—incomparably more than before COVID—that it was impossible for her to tell who among the crowd was a police officer and who wasn’t, according to a woman in her 20s who claimed to live in the area but declined to give her name.
The disaster’s victim’s father criticized the city’s weak planning for the gatherings. The victim was a lady in her 20s.
While waiting to pick up his daughter’s remains at a funeral home in Seoul, he told Nytimes that “it was believed that there would be a throng of 100,000 or more in the Itaewon region this weekend.”
“I believe that the lack of planning contributed to this calamity.”
Social media videos showed individuals performing CPR to persons laying in the street, police battling crowds, and personal possessions and other debris spread over the scene of the accident.