At Least 146 Killed as Halloween Crowd Surge Turns Deadly in South Korea

At Least 146 Killed as Halloween Crowd Surge Turns Deadly in South Korea

Here’s what we know about the deadly night in Seoul.

SEOUL — At least 146 people were killed and another 150 injured after they were crushed in a large Halloween crowd in Seoul on Saturday night, the city’s fire department said, in one of the deadliest peacetime accidents in South Korea’s recent history.

The crowd surge happened during one of the most raucous celebrations of the year in the nation’s capital, where as many as 100,000 people, local news media said, had clogged the narrow streets of the Itaewon nightlife district Saturday evening for Halloween festivities.

President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered his government to dispatch urgent help and medical assistance to the scene after he was informed of “multiple casualties,” his office said in a statement.

Here’s what to know:

  • The incident began at a narrow alleyway, right outside exit 2 of the Itaewon subway station, near a row of bars that included, among others, Oasis Bar & Cafe, Gathering and Ravo. An emotional bystander at the scene who witnessed the event said he saw bodies, limp, on the street. “I wish I hadn’t, but I did,” he said. “It was heartbreaking.”

  • Photographs showed citizens, police officers and emergency medical workers performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on people sprawled on the pavement. Live footage on MBC-TV, a local broadcaster, showed firefighters carrying what looked like bodies covered with sheets or towels on stretchers.

  • Itaewon developed as a district of bars, nightclubs and shops catering to American soldiers based nearby in the decades after the Korean War. Now, it is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Seoul, known for its nightlife, young patrons, foreign tourists and stylish restaurants.

  • Questions immediately surfaced about crowd management and planning at the long-publicized event. Traffic jams and clusters of pedestrians restricted the movements of emergency vehicles both coming and going from the site of the deaths.

Visitors from New York plan for a celebration, and instead stumble into a tragedy.

Benedict Manlapaz, a filmmaker visiting from New York, arrived at the Itaewon subway station around midnight to see the streets jammed with crowds. The people, he said, were “irritated,” with some crying.

“People were shoulder to shoulder,” said Mr. Manlapaz, 23. “There was no space to move.”

Halloween Crowd Surge Turns Deadly in South Korea

His friends, all on vacation from New York, arrived in separate cabs. They couldn’t find each other because of the crowds, he said, so they shared their locations via their phones.

He and his friends decided to meet at a coffee shop, where their confusion turned to concern, and then shock.

First, they saw a woman lying on the street with blood beneath her, receiving C.P.R. Looking more widely, they saw she was far from alone: “Easily 20 to 30 people were receiving C.P.R.,” he said.

Then worse: From the shop’s second floor, they also saw about 20 bodies lined up while covered in blue plastic sheets.

Families were gathering anxiously, waiting for news outside the Wonhyoro Multipurpose Indoor Gymnasium, where at least 45 bodies were taken, with more still arriving, officials said.

Choi Jae-won, the health director of Yongsan District, said that most of the dead and injured were in their 20s.

Itaewon is a popular nightlife district in central Seoul.

Itaewon, the neighborhood where at least 146 people were killed and 150 more injured in a Halloween crowd surge, functions as a hub of central Seoul.

By day, it serves as a traffic and logistics nexus, as it has for centuries, ever since invading forces like the Mongols and Japanese stationed their troops there. By night, Itaewon bustles as a premier entertainment zone, pulsing with stylish bars and restaurants, young patrons and foreign tourists.

Itaewon is Seoul’s most internationalized and liberalized neighborhood, an enclave for expat foreigners. Young South Koreans favor Itaewon for Halloween festivities. This year’s crowd was especially large, with young South Koreans taking to the neighborhood after two years of pandemic-related restrictions.

Itaewon is part of the Yongsan district, which once hosted the United States’ main military base in South Korea. The American troops who led the United Nations forces to defend South Korea during the Korean War stayed on, building their postwar headquarters there.

Itaewon’s main street and narrow alleys crisscrossing the hilly neighborhood were lined with bars, nightclubs and shops catering to American soldiers​. But under an agreement with South Korea, the United States military relocated its headquarters to a new base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.

Itaewon has lost most of its American military patrons, reinventing itself as a major attraction for young South Koreans. Itaewon Class, a popular South Korean TV drama on Netflix, was set partly in the neighborhood.

In recent months, Yongsan has also become the seat of presidential power. President Yoon Suk Yeol moved his office to the Defense Ministry building from the Blue House, making the ministry move to another building in Yongsan.

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