South Korea Mourns After Deadly Halloween Stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon Neighborhood

South Koreans are searching for answers as the country mourns after more than 150 people were killed in a stampede during Halloween festivities in a popular party district.
Officials said 82 people were also injured in the incident Saturday night in Seoul’s Itaewon area, which had been packed with crowds ahead of the Monday holiday.
It is the deadliest mass crushing incident in South Korea’s history. Officials say most of the victims were young people in their teens and twenties.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the stampede, which started in a narrow alleyway lined with clubs.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, whose office is near Itaewon, declared a national period of mourning over the incident. He said the priority is to determine the cause of the stampede so that future incidents can be avoided.
The Itaewon area, located in central Seoul, is filled with nightclubs and bars that are popular with expatriates and locals.
The district was packed with partygoers celebrating Halloween, which typically attracts Itaewon’s largest and most lively crowds of the year. Crowds were especially large this year, since it is the first Halloween after COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were released. Local media estimated about 100,000 people had gathered in the area.
Videos posted online showed partiers squeezed into a narrow passageway, as the crowd slowly surged forward. Eventually, hundreds became trapped.

As the scene slowly cleared, bystanders, many still wearing costumes, attempted to apply CPR to the wounded. Before long, scores of bodies were lying in the street, even as loud music emanated from nearby clubs full of revelers, seemingly unaware of the chaos outside.
A witness told VOA that during the initial chaos, she thought that people lying on the ground were drunk or passed out, but she later found out they were injured or dead. The partygoer did not provide her name because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Hours after the incident, thousands continued partying in Itaewon nightclubs, even as emergency officials nearby rushed bodies into a stream of waiting ambulances.
Masses also lingered outside, most in Halloween costumes — some stunned, some laughing, seemingly in shock — as they tried to make sense of the situation.
Officials say 19 foreigners have been counted among the dead, including citizens from China, Uzbekistan, Norway, and Iran. They said it was difficult to identify the bodies, in part because many were wearing Halloween costumes, and many were not carrying identification.
As the sun rose in Seoul, much of Itaewon remained a police zone, as officials conducted investigations and cleared debris.
Near the alley where the stampede began, some personal belongings remained, including a single white shoe lying on the sidewalk.
As of early Sunday, police had received about 355 reports of missing people, according to the Seoul city government.
A young woman who spoke to VOA said she rushed to the scene looking for her sister, who had been in the area. She later found her sister’s name on a list of the deceased, she said, and was searching the sidewalks for her personal belongings.
The White House released a statement from U.S. President Joe Biden Saturday, saying, “Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul. We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also tweeted, “We were deeply saddened to learn of the deadly stampede today in Seoul. We send our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased and injured, as well as to the people of the ROK as they mourn this horrific tragedy.”

Source: Voice of America

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