Disguised revelers running in panic, cardiac massages on sidewalks, bodies lying in the middle of the street, makeshift blankets: Halloween evening turned into a nightmare in Seoul’s cosmopolitan district of Itaewon on Saturday.
At least 153 people died and 134 were injured in the stampede in this district of the center of the Korean capital, located near a former US military base and known for its bars and bustling nightlife, for an as yet undetermined cause.
According to local media estimates, around 100,000 people, many of them very young and dressed up or in fancy dress, gathered there on Saturday evening to celebrate Halloween for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My friend told me: something terrible is happening outside”, says 30-year-old Jeon Ga-eul, who was drinking at a bar when the tragedy happened. “I answered him: But what are you talking about? I went out to look and saw people doing cardio-respiratory massage.”
Immortalized in 2020 by the Korean TV series “Itaewon Class,” the district is made up of steeply sloping alleyways on either side of a main avenue. The crowd was exceptionally dense, suggesting drama, he reports.
“Before the accident, many people were pushing each other… I also got stuck in the crowd. At first I couldn’t get out. It felt like an accident was going to happen”, Jeon Ga-eul continues.
“A short man like me can’t even breathe”An eyewitness told Yonhap News that he survived because he was on one side of the alley. “The people in the middle are the most affected”Did she say
Another witness described the panic that people started taking to Twitter “pushed down” Down the sloping and already crowded alley.
“The others then came crashing down like dominoes.”wrote Twitter user “jkaesthet1c”. “At the beginning of the crisis, I thought I would be crushed to death because people kept pushing and not realizing that people were falling,” he added.
Some witnesses said shops in the neighborhood barred people from entering to escape the deadly mob.
“Casualties appear to have been high as people tried to take shelter in nearby shops but were sent back to the streets as opening hours had passed”, A survivor told Yonhap.
Encountering a large number of victims, the firefighters who arrived at the scene asked passers-by to help them perform cardiac massage on the injured among the debris on the roadside. The bodies of the crushed or trampled dead were lined up on the ground, under blankets or other improvised coverings.
Hundreds of ambulances, many of them from outside Seoul, lined up overnight in front of Sonshunhyang University Hospital, near the scene of the tragedy and carrying scores of victims.
The stampede took place not far from the Hamilton Hotel, near which the crowd rushed into a narrow alley. As the crash site was cordoned off by police and bathed in the red light of hundreds of flashing lights, music continued to escape from some bars.
Stunned passers-by sat on the pavement checking their phones. Others hugged and consoled each other. Still others, practically oblivious to the tragedy unfolding before their eyes, continued to celebrate.
“It’s very sad and something we totally didn’t expect. I never thought something like this would happen in Korea, especially in Itaewon.”Juyoung Possamai, a 24-year-old Brazilian, works as a bartender in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been to a lot of Halloween parties in Korea, and it’s always crowded, but nothing like this. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”