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Seoul crash leaves South Korea in shock as death toll rises to 154


South Korean authorities were investigating an influx of crowds that killed at least 154 revelers in Seoul on Sunday, as the shaken nation tries to cope with one of its worst disasters.

The country has entered a week-long period of mourning as officials try to figure out how the devastating crash took place.

At least 26 foreign nationals, including two US citizens, are among the dead. More than a dozen embassies around the world have confirmed casualties from their countries.

The cause of Saturday’s surge is unclear, but witnesses say revelers were packed into the narrow streets of the capital’s Itaewon nightlife district as people enjoyed the first weekend of Halloween since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

Almost all of the victims – at least 150 – have been identified; police told CNN. The toll included 56 men and 97 women, South Korea’s Interior and Security Ministry reported.

As of 5 p.m. local time Sunday (4 a.m. ET), the number of injured had risen to 133, with 37 seriously injured, the department said.

“There were rows and rows of people covered in tarps on the street,” Emily Farmer, a 27-year-old English teacher in Seoul, who was passing through Itaewon, told CNN.

Farmer and his friends were “overwhelmed” by the crowd on the street and decided to enter a bar. Soon after, rumors began to spread that someone had died and patrons were not allowed to leave. Farmer said she received an emergency message from the government alerting them to a “dangerous situation in the area”, and was later allowed to leave the bar, when she discovered the scale of the tragedy.

“It was awful,” she said. “Not everyone died instantly.” Groups of people were crying, she added. Many victims were receiving CPR and had their suits removed to allow medics at the scene to resuscitate them. “They were still taking people out because it was so crowded,” she added.

Another eyewitness, Sung Sehyun, told CNN the street space looked like a “blocked subway” on Saturday night, with Halloween revelers so packed it was hard to get around.

Seoul crash leaves South Korea in shock as death toll rises to 154

Suah Cho added that people started jostling and there was a lot of shouting. She eventually managed to detour and fled to safety, but had seen people climbing buildings to survive. She added that the costumes people were wearing added to the confusion; “there was also a policeman who was shouting but we couldn’t really tell (if it was) a real policeman because so many people were wearing suits.”

Witnesses told CNN there was very little – if any – crowd control before the mass of people became deadly.

Videos and photos posted on social media show people huddled together, standing side by side in the narrow street.

Seoul crash leaves South Korea in shock as death toll rises to 154

Crowds are not unusual for this area, nor for Seoul residents, who are used to the crowded subways and streets of a city of nearly 10 million people.

After the first emergency calls arrived around 10:24 p.m., authorities rushed to the scene – but the sheer volume of people made it difficult to reach those in need. Video posted to social media showed people performing push-ups on other revelers lying on the ground waiting for medical assistance.

A number of countries, including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway and France, have confirmed that their nationals were among the victims.

Three South Korean military personnel were also among those killed, a Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN.

The South Korean government has set a national mourning period until November 5, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said at a press briefing.

During the mourning period, all public institutions and diplomatic offices will fly half-mast flags, Han said, adding that all non-emergency events will be postponed.

Civil servants and employees of public institutions will wear ribbons to express their condolences during the mourning period, Han said.


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