By Matichon and Agencies published by CNA
THE Thai embassy in Seoul confirmed this afternoon (Oct. 30) that one Thai national was among at least 151 killed in a crush at Seoul’s Itaewon district, which happened when a huge crowd celebrating Halloween surged into an alley, while another one is missing, Matichon Newspaper said this afternoon (Oct. 30).
Mr. Thani Saengrat, director-general of the Department of Information and spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said the authorities were coordinating with South Korean police and hospitals about the 27-year-old Thai who died in the stampede so as to inform relatives.
In addition no contact was possible with another Thai person who also attended this Halloween festival with the Thai embassy in Seoul coordinating with South Korean police to investigate and get some information.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning today (Oct. 30) and expressed condolences to the victims, mostly teenagers and people in their 20s, and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the many injured in one of the South Korea’s worst disasters and the world’s worst stampedes in decades.
“This is truly tragic,” he said in a statement. “A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night.”
A huge crowd celebrating in the popular Itaewon district surged into an alley on Saturday night, emergency officials said, adding the death toll could rise.
Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, said 151 deaths had been confirmed, including 22 foreigners. He told a briefing at the scene that 82 people were injured, 19 of them seriously.
Families and friends desperately sought word of loved ones at community centres that had become makeshift facilities for missing persons.
As of midday, the Interior Ministry said at least 90 per cent of the victims had been identified, with delays affecting some foreign nationals and teenagers who did not yet have identification cards.
Yoon said the government “will thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident and make fundamental improvements to ensure the same accident does not occur again in the future”.
“My heart is heavy and it is difficult to contain my sorrow,” he added.
No clear idea what caused crush
The crowd surge and crush happened in the capital’s popular Itaewon district, where local reports said as many as 100,000 people had gone to celebrate Halloween on Saturday night, clogging the area’s narrow alleyways and winding streets.
“The high number of casualties was the result of many being trampled during the Halloween event,” Choi said, adding that all the deaths were likely from the crush in the single narrow alley.
It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing. Many of the partygoers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes.
The dead included 97 women and 54 men, the fire department said. Among them were foreigners from countries like Thailand, China, Iran, Uzbekistan and Norway.
Russia’s Tass news agency said two of the victims were Russian, while the Chinese Embassy in Seoul confirmed on its official WeChat account that three Chinese citizens had died in the stampede.
Officials said on Sunday they had no clear idea of what caused the crush.
Eyewitnesses described scrambling to get out of the suffocating crowd as people ended up piling on top of one another, with paramedics, quickly overwhelmed by the number of victims, asking passers-by to administer first aid.
“There were so many people just being pushed around and I got caught in the crowd and I couldn’t get out at first too,” 30-year-old Jeon Ga-eul told AFP. “I felt like an accident was bound to happen.”
Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of trouble in the alleys before the incident.
“It was at least more than 10 times more crowded than usual,” he told Reuters.
Others said smaller people had struggled more in the crowds.
“A short person like me could not even breathe,” a woman said, adding that she survived as she was at the edge of the alleyway while “people in the middle suffered the most”.
As questions began to emerge over the lack of security at the event, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing that the police force had been occupied on the other side of town.
“I am not certain about the exact number of police personnel deployed (to Itaewon) but a considerable number had been deployed at Gwanghwamun where a large crowd was expected for a protest,” he said.
Police had also not expected such a large crowd at the Halloween event, he said.
“The expected size of the crowd in Itaewon did not deviate much from the previous years, so I understand that the personnel were deployed at a similar scale as before.”
Social media footage showed hundreds of people packed in the narrow, sloped alley crushed and immobile as emergency officials and police tried to pull them free.
AFP photos from the scene showed scores of bodies spread on the pavement covered by bed sheets and emergency workers dressed in orange vests loading even more bodies on stretchers into ambulances.
“People were layered on top of others like a tomb. Some were gradually losing their consciousness while some looked dead by that point,” one eyewitness told the Yonhap News Agency.
In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to the victims described scenes of tragedy and chaos.
“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,” Lee said. “Many bystanders came to help us with CPR.”
“It’s hard to put in words to describe,” he added. “So many victims’ faces were pale. I could not catch their pulse or breath and many of them had a bloody nose. When I tried CPR, I also pumped blood out of their mouths.”
Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to pour into the narrow alley that was already packed wall-to-wall, when those at the top of the sloped street fell, sending others below them toppling over others.
An unnamed woman who said she was the mother of a survivor said her daughter and others were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled from the crush of people in the alley.
Choi said the victims’ bodies were being transferred to a gym not far from the site of the stampede and to area hospitals to be identified.
Local television showed scores of ambulances streaming to the Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital, where some of the victims had been taken.
President Yoon ordered officials to dispatch first aid teams and to swiftly secure hospital beds for those affected, the presidential office said.
Top: More than 150 people were killed in the crush in a crowded Itaewon alley in Seoul Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace and published by CNA
First insert: A person, believed to have suffered from cardiac arrest, is transported on a stretcher in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon in Seoul today, Oct. 30, 2022. Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-je and published by CNA
Second insert: Rescue workers and firefighters work on the scene of a crushing accident in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Lee Ji-eun/Yonhap via AP and published by CNA
Third insert: Family members of people missing after a stampede during Halloween festivities, gather at a community service centre in Seoul, South Korea, today, Oct. 30, 2022. Photo: Reuters /Kim Hong-Ji and published by CNA
Front Page: Rescue teams work at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul. Photo: Reuters /Kim Hong-Ji and published by CNA
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