The South Korean capital of SEOUL — On Tuesday, South Korea’s police chief admitted: “a heavy responsibility” for officers’ ineffective handling of earlier emergency calls about the impending disaster that led to the deaths of more than 150 people during Halloween celebrations in Seoul.
This admission came as the South Korean government was under increasing public scrutiny regarding whether or not the crowd surge that occurred on Saturday night in Seoul’s Itaewon district, a popular nightlife neighborhood, could have been prevented and regarding who should take responsibility for the country’s worst disaster in years.
Yoon Hee Keun, commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency, said at a televised news conference, “I feel a heavy responsibility (for the disaster) as the head of one of the related government offices.” Law enforcement officials have pledged to take all necessary measures to ensure this type of tragedy never occurs again.
South Korean youth gather in their thousands for Halloween-themed events and parties in the Itaewon neighborhood, known for its expat-friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere. On Saturday, Itaewon hosted the largest Halloween party in the area since the pandemic began, with an estimated 100,000 people in attendance.
There is a lack of leadership for the Itaewon Halloween celebrations. On Monday, South Korean police said they lacked formal protocols for dealing with situations like crowd surges at unplanned events.
South Koreans are looking for explanations following the Halloween tragedy in Seoul.
Yoon stated that preliminary investigation results show that many citizens made urgent calls to authorities warning them about the potential danger of a crowd gathering in Itaewon, but that officers who received those calls did not respond adequately.
Yoon reported that the police have begun an intensive internal investigation into the officers’ responses to the emergency calls they received and other issues, such as their immediate actions in the face of the sudden influx of people in Itaewon that evening.
There were at least 156 fatalities and 151 injuries as a result of the disaster, which was centered in a downhill, narrow alley in Itaewon. People were seen collapsing on top of each other, having trouble breathing, and passing out. They recalled that the entire Itaewon neighborhood was extremely crowded, with slow-moving vehicles and a crowd of partygoers dressed in Halloween costumes, so that rescuers and ambulances couldn’t make it to the crowded alleys in time.
There Was A Sense Of “Unsafety” In The Crowded Area
At 10:24 p.m., authorities began receiving reports of people who had been “buried” in crowds and needed immediate assistance. at Seoul (9:24 a.m. ET). At the time the news broke, Yonhap said that some people had experienced “cardiac arrest,” while others had “difficulty breathing.”
The minister of safety and security for Seoul, Lee Sang-min, stated on Sunday that “a considerable number of police and security forces” had been sent to another part of the city on Saturday to deal with protests.
Meanwhile, he claimed that the crowd size in Itaewon was “normal,” so only a “normal” number of security personnel had been on hand.
However, as the disaster continued, it prompted a massive response. Over the course of Saturday night, more than 1,700 emergency responders were sent out to help those in need. This included 517 firefighters, 1,100 police officers, and roughly 70 government employees.
Videos posted online showed police cordoning off a spot where partygoers were administering CPR to unconscious revelers while they waited for medical assistance. Some depicted Halloween revelers lying on the ground or being carried away in stretchers as medical personnel attended to them and ambulances stood by.
First, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called an emergency meeting in the wee hours of Sunday, and then he went to the scene to get briefings from emergency personnel.
In his address to the nation, he declared a day of mourning “until the handling of the accident is concluded,” though Prime Minister Han Duck-soo later announced that it would end at midnight on November 5.
A tragedy that had no place happening in the heart of Seoul on Halloween night has occurred, Yoon said. I pray for the souls of those who perished in the tragic accident and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
He also promised an investigation into the disaster and the implementation of measures to prevent a recurrence.
Yoon stated that a “multi-purpose emergency system” would help both the injured and the families of the deceased and that relevant ministries like the Ministry of the Interior and Safety would conduct emergency inspections for Halloween events and local festivals to ensure they were managed in an orderly and safe manner.
There Were People Of Foreign Nationality Among The Dead
Itaewon in Seoul is the epicenter of Halloween celebrations in Asia, and visitors from all over the region flocked there this year to celebrate the holiday following the devastating pandemic. Expected crowd sizes were so large that hotels and events with tickets sold out months in advance.
Sung Sehyun, a witness, compared the area to a “jammed subway,” describing how he had to force his way through the crowd in order to escape the streets earlier in the evening.
I barely made it through, but I heard that people had been killed an hour later. Since “people got stamped on… and people got jammed together,” as he put it.
CNN national security analyst and disaster management expert Juliette Kayyem speculated that the high population density of the city and the frequent presence of large crowds in Seoul could have contributed to the tragedy.
It’s unclear what precipitated the crush, but she did note that authorities “would have anticipated high numbers… before Saturday night.” Officials should keep an eye on the number of people in the area at all times in case evacuation is necessary.
World leaders expressed their deepest sympathies to the people of South Korea and all those impacted by the disaster.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden released a statement in which he and his wife, Jill, expressed their “deepest condolences” to the families of those who had died in the Seoul attack. Those of us here share the sorrow of the people of the Republic of Korea, and we pray for a speedy recovery for the injured.
As many as 151 people perished during Halloween celebrations in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, on Saturday. Thousands of partygoers were crammed into a small alley in the heart of Itaewon, and many of them became trapped and died from the pressure. A stampede is suspected to have occurred under these conditions.
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