A festive night turned deadly
The crowd surge in Itaewon killed 151 people and injured more than 140 on Saturday evening. The victims were mostly young adults, and among the dead are 26 foreigners from 14 countries.
South Korea is searching for answers after a Halloween celebration in Seoul turned into one of the worst disasters the country has faced. Authorities have declared a national mourning period as investigations on the crowd crush that left 151 people dead is ongoing.
Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in South Korea like it is in the United States. The holiday began to become popular in South Korea around 2011 and grew in popularity throughout the years. Itaewon’s Halloween celebrations came to a halt with the Covid-19 pandemic. This year would be the first restriction-free Halloween celebration in two years.
As the night went on, over 100,000 crowded into bars, nightclubs and walked around the city of Itaewon. As more people began making their way into the streets of Itaewon, festival attendees found themselves crammed into an alleyway that is barely 11 feet wide. With so much human traffic, it made it difficult for people to move and breathe. Calls from the crowd trying to push their way through echoed, and with one big shove, many began to fall, and bodies were compressed into a small area. Many question the authorities and their responsibility for managing the crowd.
Criticism of officials’ response and safety measures are echoed throughout South Korea as many look for answers as to why this tragedy occurred. The first call came hours before the deadly crush occurred and 10 more calls were made over the next three hours.
Minister Lee Sang-min made an apology to the citizens. "It is very sad for me as a father who has a son and daughter… it is difficult to express in words how unreal this situation is, and it is difficult to accept this situation," he said.
Lee Sang-min stated that police were underprepared due to nearby districts hosting anti-
government protests. Only 137 officers were in the area when the stampede occurred. Officers had no guidelines and were unprepared to deal with the horrific events.
“The crowd this year was not worrisomely bigger, compared with past years,” Mr. Lee told reporters. “But our police forces were scattered to various protests across the city.”
Police closed the streets to traffic in the area, memorials and small shrines were scattered on the sidewalks for victims. Seoul’s mayor, Oh Se-hoon, gave a tear-filled apology to the families and victims and said the cities government would deploy resources to assist residents affected by this tragedy.
South Korean officials were quick to respond to the tragedy, with Seoul’s mayor Oh Se-hoon holding a press conference for the public. Se-hoon also visited with victims of the tragedy and family members at a local hospital. Se-hoon apologized to the public for his delay in making a media appearance and for his delay in issuing a public apology.
South Korean police chief, Yoon Hee-Keun, stated that he believes that the police response to the danger and urgency of the situation was inadequate and that an intensive inspection will be conducted.
If South Korean police officials responded correctly to the 112 emergency calls a tragedy of this caliber could’ve been avoided. In times of crisis, time is your enemy. Preparedness and prompt action are your friends. The South Korean police were unprepared and did not take prompt action to protect the public. While government officials were quick to respond to the crisis, they did not mention anything about future training that could be implemented to help prepare officers to handle a crowd crush crisis.
By Kassandra Cabral
Kassandra Cabral was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She is a senior at San Diego State studying Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations with a minor in Communications. After graduation, she hopes on finding a job in entertainment PR or sports PR.