SEOUL: Shocked family members collected bodies, parents searched for children and a country sought answers on Sunday (Oct 30) after at least 153 people were crushed to death when a crowd in South Korea surged in an alleyway during Halloween festivities.
President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning and designated Seoul’s popular Itaewon district a disaster zone after the Saturday night disaster.
“This news came like a bolt from the blue sky,” said a father who burst into tears as he collected his daughter’s body from a morgue in the nation’s capital.
A huge crowd celebrating in Itaewon surged into an alley, killing at least 153 people, most of them in their 20s, emergency officials said, adding the death toll could rise.
The partiers, some still in their teens and many in Halloween costumes, were ready to enjoy the bars, nightclubs and restaurants where the revelry routinely spills over into narrow and often steep side streets.
Instead, the street became filled with people crying for help, while emergency workers desperately sought to free trapped bodies and perform CPR on people splayed across the debris-littered ground.
Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, told a briefing at the scene 82 people were injured, 19 of them seriously. The deaths included 22 foreigners, he said.
Families and friends desperately sought word of loved ones at community centres turned into facilities for missing people.
At least 90 per cent of the victims had been identified by midday, with delays affecting some foreign nationals and teenagers who did not yet have identification cards, the Interior Ministry said.
Makeshift memorials began appearing near the site, with onlookers leaving flowers and notes.
President Yoon expressed condolences to the victims and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the many injured in one of South Korea’s worst disasters and the world’s worst stampedes in decades.
“This is truly tragic,” he said in a statement, vowing an investigation into the cause of the disaster. “A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night.”
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