At least 151 people were killed in a crash when a huge crowd celebrating Halloween swept through an alleyway in a nightlife district of South Korea’s capital Seoul on Saturday night, emergency officials said. It was Seoul’s first Halloween event in three years after the country lifted COVID restrictions and social distancing. Many revelers wore Halloween masks and costumes.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning on Sunday after a Halloween crush killed some 151 people in a crowded nightlife area in Seoul.
Yoon expressed his condolences to the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.
“It’s truly tragic,” he said in a statement. “A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night.”
At least 151 people were killed in a crash when a huge crowd celebrating Halloween swept through an alleyway in a nightlife district of South Korea’s capital Seoul on Saturday night, emergency officials said.
Another 150 people were injured in the melee in Seoul’s Itaewon district, Yongsan Fire Station chief Choi Sung-beom said during a briefing at the scene.
Many of the injured were in serious condition and were receiving emergency treatment, officials said.
It was Seoul’s first Halloween event in three years after the country lifted COVID restrictions and social distancing. Many revelers wore Halloween masks and costumes.
Some witnesses described the crowd becoming increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening progressed. The incident happened around 10:20 p.m. (1:20 p.m. GMT).
“A number of people fell during a Halloween festival, and we have a large number of casualties,” Choi said. Many of those killed were near a nightclub.
Many of the victims were women in their twenties, Choi said.
Witnesses described chaotic scenes moments before the stampede, with police on site ahead of the Halloween event sometimes struggling to keep control of the crowd.
Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of unrest in the alleys before the incident.
“There were at least 10 times more people than usual,” he told Reuters.
Social media footage showed hundreds of people crammed into the narrow, sloping driveway, crushed and motionless as emergency officials and police tried to free them.
Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all of the deaths were likely due to the crash in the single narrow alley.
Other footage showed chaotic scenes of firefighters and citizens treating dozens of people who appeared unconscious.
Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to stream into the narrow alley which was already packed wall to wall, when those at the top of the sloping street fell, sending others below of them knocking down others.
An unnamed woman who said she was the mother of a survivor said her daughter and others were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled out of the crush of people in the alley.
A Reuters witness said a makeshift morgue had been set up in a building adjacent to the scene. About four dozen bodies were later carried on wheeled stretchers and transported to a government facility to identify the victims, according to the witness.
The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expats, its dozens of bars and restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses suffered a sharp drop in three years of the pandemic.
“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks… but it was many times bigger than all that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene.
Foreigners were among those transferred to nearby hospitals.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “Our hearts go out to those currently responding and to all South Koreans at this very trying time.”
Horrible news from Seoul tonight.
Our hearts go out to those currently responding and to all South Koreans at this very trying time.— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) October 29, 2022
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “We send our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who died and were injured, and to the people (of South Korea) as they mourn this awful tragedy”.
We were deeply saddened to learn of the deadly stampede today in Seoul. We send our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who died and were injured, and to the people of the Republic of Korea as they mourn this horrific tragedy.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 29, 2022
With the easing of the COVID pandemic, curfews on bars and restaurants and a 10-person limit on private gatherings were lifted in April. An outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May.
Authorities said they were investigating the exact cause of the incident.
President Yoon Suk-yeol chaired an emergency meeting with senior officials and ordered the establishment of a task force to secure resources to treat the injured and launch a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster.