Halloween festivities in South Korea’s capital city took a tragic turn after an apparent crowd surge killed at least 146 people and injured more than 150 others.
Seoul’s Yongsan fire department warned the death toll would likely grow as first responders worked to transport victims to hospitals across the city. Many of the dead remained in the streets, covered with blue tarps, while others were transported to a nearby gym to be identified.
All of the victims were seemingly crushed to death Saturday night after a large crowd started pushing forward in a narrow alley near the Hamilton Hotel, located in the leisure district of Itaewon.
Yonhap News Agency reported that many people suffered from “cardiac arrest,” citing fire authorities. Emergency officials have also assisted at least 81 people who have reported “difficulty breathing.”
While authorities said the cause of the crowd crush remained under investigation, local outlets reported a large number of people raced toward a bar upon hearing an unidentified celebrity visited there.
As many as 100,000 revellers travelled to the popular party spot to celebrate Halloween weekend. It marked the largest gathering since the start of the pandemic following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.
Photos and video taken on the scene show panicked people assisting police and other first responders administer first aid and CPR.
One clip posted to social media shows a long line of emergency vehicles and ambulances parked near the scene, waiting to receive the injured on stretchers. Another depicts people struggling to escape from beneath the bodies of others.
More than 400 first responders and 140 vehicles from around the nation, including all available personnel in Seoul, were deployed.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement calling for officials to ensure speedy treatment for those injured and a review of the safety of the festivity sites. He also ordered the Health Ministry to deploy disaster medical assistance teams and secure beds in nearby hospitals to treat the injured.
Authorities restricted traffic as a result of the tragedy to help speed up hospital transport. The Seoul Metropolitan Government also issued a series of emergency text messages urging people in the area to return home.