Witnesses and survivors have described being trapped in a crush of bodies for more than an hour and people falling like “dominoes” and being trampled during a deadly crowd surge in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
The crush on Saturday night happened mainly in a narrow lane in Seoul’s Itaewon district, after a huge crowd of people celebrating Halloween pushed into the downhill alley, witnesses said.
At least 151 people, mostly women and young people in their 20s, were killed. The dead included 19 foreigners, according to officials. Dozens more were injured, with at least 19 of them in critical condition.
It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow sloped alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. Fire officials and witnesses said the crush happened when those at the top of the sloped street fell, sending people below them toppling over others.
“People kept pushing down into a downhill club alley, resulting in other people screaming and falling down like dominos,” one survivor was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency. “I thought I would be crushed to death too as people kept pushing without realising there were people falling down at the start.”
Another survivor, a young man in his 20s identified as Kim, described the scene as a “Halloween nightmare” and said he also saw people falling.
“I heard voices calling for help, and I saw people who couldn’t breathe,” Kim told the Hanykoreh newspaper, adding that he was trapped in the crowd for about an hour and a half before he was rescued. “My legs are numb,” he said.
The Korea Joong Ang Daily newspaper said most of those who were killed were found near the northwest corner of the Hamilton Hotel. One witness told the newspaper he made it out via a small side street near the hotel before the crush turned deadly. “It was people fighting to leave and people fighting to get in,” he said.
Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled by managing to get into a bar whose door was open in the alley, Yonhap reported, while another said she managed to make it out alive because she was standing off to the side.
The woman, surnamed Park, told Yonhap: “[I] could survive as I was located on the sideline of the alley. It looks like people in the middle suffered the most.”
One victim’s mother, surnamed Ahn, told Yonhap that she had heard that her daughter had been under a pile of people for more than an hour.
“Her boyfriend called me around midnight, crying, saying she was dead, that she’d been under a pile of people for over an hour and that he’d tried to pull her out but couldn’t,” Ahn told Yonhap. “I rushed here after getting his call but haven’t received confirmation.”
The sheer number of victims quickly overwhelmed paramedics called to the scene, according to emergency workers.
In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to victims described passers-by stepping in to administer first aid.
“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.”
Saturday’s disaster was the deadliest crowd crush in South Korea’s history. President Yoon Yuk-seol has declared a period of national mourning and promised an investigation into what happened.
Seoul’s Metropolitan government meanwhile said it has received reports about some 355 missing people since the disaster.
Ju Young Possamai, a bartender in Itaewon, said he had been to several Halloween celebrations in South Korea and was shocked by the tragedy.
“It was very sad to see something that we never, never expected,” Possamai, 24, told the AFP news agency. “It’s always crowded, but nothing like this has ever happened before.”