Authorities had expected up to 100,000 people to join the festivities, the first without major Covid-19 restrictions since the pandemic began in 2020. The stampede killed 153 people.
Young people who flocked to the popular Itaewon district on Saturday for the first nearly unlimited Halloween party in three years were caught up in a murderous mob, which killed at least 153 people.
The crowds, some still teenagers and many dressed in Halloween costumes, were ready to enjoy the bars, nightclubs and restaurants where revelry regularly spills out into the narrow and often steep streets.
But the privacy of Itaewon’s alleys turned eerie on Halloween weekend.
Twenty-four hours earlier, there were already warning signs that the parties were attracting dangerous numbers of people. On Friday evening, a Reuters witness saw crowds in the area holding a Halloween street fair with stalls selling face paint, candy and costumes.
A day later, the crowd reappeared. Authorities say no organized event drew thousands of people to the narrow lanes where so many young people died, including at least 22 foreigners.
But social media posts showed nightclubs and bars advertising Halloween events and promotions, including some of the hottest clubs.
Authorities are still investigating what caused the rush of people, but witnesses and social media footage showed people thronging the streets in a space several blocks around the alley where many deaths occurred .
Shortly before 10:20 p.m. local time, chaos erupted, with police at times struggling to control crowds, witnesses said.
People piled into a particularly narrow and sloping alley, even though it was already crowded from wall to wall. Footage on social media showed some people trying to scale the walls of buildings to escape mounting pressure, while others were screaming, crying or swearing.
When those at the top of the slope fell, people below collapsed on top of each other, witnesses said.
“We arrived around 10 p.m. to go to a club, but then we saw people falling on the street,” says Moon Ju-young, 21. “Some were bleeding, others were screaming in pain.”
A French student, who asked not to be identified due to the traumatic event, said he was trapped in a crowd for an hour and a half.
“I wanted to go somewhere safe but it was not possible,” he told Reuters. “Everyone pushed me and I couldn’t do anything.”
He said he left with chest pains and a sprained ankle, but he was sorry for those who died or were more seriously injured, and for emergency personnel who are desperately trying to free people.
However, he was less sympathetic to those who kept trying to push their way through the crowd, often making it difficult for first responders who were asking the crowd to keep calm and stay in their place.
“I’m mad at them because they pushed everyone and they didn’t realize it,” he said.
Videos shared on social media showed a pile of bodies trapped between buildings, some at the bottom appearing unconscious while others approached rescuers struggling to free them from the crowds.
“A person next to me fell, but the people behind me kept pushing me, then other people fell and piled on top of each other,” said a 30-year-old student from Seoul. “I yelled at the people pushing me, ‘Don’t push! People fell.
A woman said her daughter, pulled from the crush of people, survived after being trapped for more than an hour.
Moon, the young man who saw the victims on the street, said passers-by seemed to add to the confusion as they tried to help their friends.
“Some people tried to push their way through the police cordon saying they had friends there, and they were forcibly removed by the police,” Moon said.
Authorities had expected up to 100,000 people to join the festivities, the first without major Covid-19 restrictions since the pandemic began in 2020.
But they said it was not deemed necessary to deploy more officers than usual to the area for a Halloween weekend, which also normally attracts televisions to cover the crowds and colorful costumes. Witnesses said it was difficult to detect a significant police presence in the crowd.
“Every year a lot of people gather for Halloween, but last night there were many, incomparably more than before Covid, so I couldn’t identify who is a policeman and who is not in the crowd “, said a young woman in it. 20s who said she lived in the neighborhood, but declined to give her name.
The father of a woman in her 20s who died in the disaster said the city’s preparations for the rallies were inadequate.
“There were expected to be a crowd of 100,000 or more in the Itaewon area this weekend,” he told Reuters while at a funeral home. from Seoul to retrieve her daughter’s body.
“I think there was no preparation for it, which led to this disaster.”
Footage on social media showed personal effects and other debris strewn at the scene, firefighters administering CPR to people lying in the street and police struggling to contain the crowd.
“I managed to escape from the place,” the graduate student said. “But if I had stayed there a few more minutes, I wouldn’t have come out; I would have died there.”