Milan Hall | Staff Writer
Jo Miller | Correspondent
On Oct. 29, a celebratory Halloween night in the Itaewon district of Seoul, South Korea turned deadly. What people online are describing as a “crowd crush” and “stampede” has taken 154 confirmed lives. The chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, Choi Seong-Beom, says that the total may rise as it is unclear how many people are in critical condition.
The Itaewon district of Seoul is a hub for nightlife and every Halloween the amount of people visiting increases. Having huge Halloween celebrations in Itaewon became a norm in South Korea around 5 years ago after celebrities and foreigners popularized having parties there.
This was the first Halloween since South Korea loosened its Covid-19 regulations. Due to these new regulations, the amount of people in Itaewon increased beyond the previous years. An estimated 100,000 people were in the streets of Itaewon.
Local media reports said the incident did not take place on a main road. It took place in a narrow alleyway behind a Hamilton Hotel, nearby a main subway exit and the busy streets of Itaewon. The slanted alleyway is 45 meters long and about 10 feet wide. This specific location was already known for typically having high foot traffic, even during regular days, due to its use as a shortcut.
Initially, the night began with people entering one direction and leaving in the other. Since the surrounding Itaewon streets mainly consist of one-way roads, car and foot traffic was slow moving. As the night went on, more people began filling the street and while some people were trying to enter the alleyway, many were trying to leave.
Witnesses described the situation as “sudden chaos.” Around 10 pm, panic quickly ignited as people could hardly breathe or move. The intensity of the local music and venues made it impossible to hear anyone’s calls for help. A domino effect ensued, with people falling over on the sloped alleyway and unable to get back up.
“Lot of people were still partying and laughing. Then I saw bodies, police came. Officers were screaming. Then I checked the phone, then I knew what I was seeing was real…It made me angry” said Luca Ignat, an 18-year-old present after the crowd rush.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol formally established a mourning period from Oct. 29 until the “official resolution” of the incident. He ordered that all flags at government buildings and public offices be flown at half-staff. Following the release of the president’s statement, he visited the Itaewon-dong neighborhood and ordered the full provision of funeral funding for the deceased and medical treatment for the injured.
Amongst the 154 victims, 80% of those who died were in their early and late 20s, while 11 were teenagers. 133 people were injured and so far, many hospitalized patients require critical attention. During that night and the following morning, first responders were still searching and attempting to identify bodies.
“When I think of those who died and their families, I feel an indescribable sadness and responsibility as the president who should be responsible for the safety of the people,” said President Yoon.
There was a noticeable lack of established safety precautions compared to previous Seoul events. At a previous festival in Itaewon, which had official sponsors, police blocked vehicle traffic and pedestrians received police directing. There weren’t any similar form of crowd control on Oct. 29.
Critics and locals are demanding answers from the government. Individuals were asking why people were not helped sooner, considering that there was a government first-response center and the fire department was only about 660 feet from the alley.
On Oct. 31, South Korea’s National Forensic Service conducted a forensic examination of where the incident occurred. They intend to use their results to analyze why things turned out the way they did, and what the local government could have done differently to avert this crisis.