Death Toll Tops 150 in Korean Halloween Nightmare

JUNG YEON-JE
JUNG YEON-JE

Halloween parties in South Korea turned into scenes of true terror on Saturday, as stampedes left more than 150 dead, according to the latest reports out of Seoul.

The nightmare occurred in the capital’s chic Itaewon neighborhood, where as many as 100,000 people reportedly came to party for the first Halloween since the easing of pandemic safety precautions.

Authorities initially reported the incident resulted only in “cardiac arrests”—but as of Sunday evening in the country, the death toll had risen to 153, with officials predicting it to rise due to those in serious condition. At least 19 foreigners were among the casualties.

Joshua Smith of Florida saw the horror unfold from the safety of his hotel room.

“They were doing CPR on so many people, and the club music was just blasting and people probably couldn’t even hear each other,” he told The Washington Post.

“They were just bodies. As soon as we started seeing people cover their faces with a towel or something, that’s when it was clear those people were dead. It was horrible, horrible to see.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The dense crowd during a Halloween festival in Seoul, South Korea.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">@DABAKLUSA/Reuters</div>

The dense crowd during a Halloween festival in Seoul, South Korea.

@DABAKLUSA/Reuters

A doctor, Lee Beom-suk, said he tried to help the fallen at the start of the incident in the narrow, winding alley lined with bars and restaurants.

“When I first attempted CPR there were two victims lying on the pavement. But the number exploded soon after, outnumbering first responders at the scene,” he said, according to Agence France Presse.

“It's hard to put in words to describe. So many victims’ faces were pale. I could not catch their pulse or breath and many of them had a bloody nose.”

Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said that the bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where family members could identify them and that most of the dead and injured are in their teens or twenties.

More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed, including 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers.

The National Fire Agency said in a statement that all of Seoul’s available emergency workers have been mobilized.

The exact cause of the disaster is as yet unclear, but the Associated Press cited an anonymous police source stating that a celebrity sighting may have triggered a sudden rush toward a bar.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Rescue team members wait with stretchers to remove bodies from the scene where dozens of people were killed in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">KIM HONG-JI</div>

Rescue team members wait with stretchers to remove bodies from the scene where dozens of people were killed in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul.

KIM HONG-JI

AP reported one survivor as saying people fell and toppled to one another “like dominos” after they were being pushed by other people at a narrow downhill alley.

Multiple reports have placed the tragedy in the vicinity of the Hamilton Hotel, a popular destination in the city.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Rescue team members move a body at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">KIM HONG-JI</div>

Rescue team members move a body at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul.

KIM HONG-JI

Videos posted to social media reportedly from around the time of the incident show streets congested with a multinational crowd.

Others later showed motionless bodies on the ground as rescue crews hurried and multiple people attempted CPR.

The Itaewon tragedy is the worst disaster in South Korea outside of wartime since the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, killing more than 300 people.

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