A man covers the dead in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district after a stampede during Halloween festivities on Saturday [Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE]
At least 149 people were killed and 150 hurt in a chaotic stampede in South Korea’s capital Seoul after thousands gathered on a narrow street to celebrate Halloween.
Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said the death toll could rise as emergency workers continued to transport the injured to hospitals across Seoul following the crowd crush in the entertainment district of Itaewon on Saturday night.
Officials said many people were crushed to death at 10:20pm (13:20 GMT) after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.
Many of the victims were women and young people in their 20s, Choi said.
Witnesses described chaotic scenes moments before the stampede, with the police on hand in anticipation of the Halloween event at times having trouble maintaining control of the crowds. Some were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled from the crush of people in the alley.
Police confirmed dozens of people were given cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the streets, while others were taken to nearby hospitals.
“The area is still chaotic so we are still trying to figure out the exact number of people injured,” said Moon Hyun-joo, another official at the National Fire Agency.
‘Trampled and crushed’
It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted COVID restrictions and social distancing. Many of the party-goers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes.
Footage on social media showed multiple people, both rescue officials and private citizens, simultaneously performing CPR on people lying scattered in the street. Videos showed dozens of people covered with blue plastic sheets at the roadside.
Al Jazeera’s Musun Kim, reporting from Seoul, said the area is usually crowded throughout the night on the weekends, but it was more packed than usual because of Halloween parties.
“[The] stampede happened in one small ally and a number of people started to fall down and got trapped, got trampled and crushed, with some losing consciousness,” he said.
The Seoul metropolitan government issued emergency text messages urging people in the area to swiftly return home.
Some local media reported the incident occurred after a large group of people rushed to an Itaewon bar after hearing an unidentified celebrity visited there.
Authorities said they were investigating the exact cause of the incident. President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over an emergency meeting with senior aides.
Local media said about 100,000 people flocked to Itaewon for the Halloween festivities, which were the biggest in years following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.
“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks … but this was several 10-folds bigger than any of that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, said at the scene.