Mass rally in South Korea leaves country reeling, as death toll rises to 154



CNN

South Korean authorities are investigating Crowds that killed at least 154 Partygoers in Seoul, as a troubled nation tries to come to terms with one of its worst disasters ever.

The country has begun a week-long mourning period as officials try to understand how it happened devastating crush takes place.

Among the dead were at least 26 foreigners, including two US citizens. More than a dozen embassies around the world have confirmed victims from their country.

The reason for Saturday’s surge is unclear, but witnesses say party-goers were tightly packed into the narrow streets of the capital’s nightlife district, Itaewon, as people enjoyed their first Halloween weekend since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Almost all victims – at least 150 – have been identified; Police told CNN. South Korea’s Ministry of Interior and Safety said the death toll included 56 men and 97 women.

Among the dead, the South Korean Ministry of Education said on Monday that six school students were among the dead, one of whom was in middle school. Three teachers also died.

The ministry said that as of 5 p.m. local time on Sunday (4 a.m. ET), the number of injured had risen to 133, of whom 37 were seriously injured.

“There were rows and rows of people in tarpaulins on the street,” said Emily Farmer, a 27-year-old English teacher in Seoul who was Passes through Itaewonfor CNN.

Farmer and her friends “flooded” the crowds in the street and decided to pop into a bar. Soon, rumors started circulating that someone had died and the beneficiaries were not allowed to leave. Farmer said she received an emergency letter from the government warning them of a “dangerous situation in the area,” after which she was allowed to leave the pub, when she discovered the scale of the tragedy.

“It was horrible,” she said. “Not everyone died instantly.” She added that groups of people were crying. Many of the victims were receiving CPR and were undressed to allow paramedics at the scene to resuscitate them. “They were still pulling people[out]because the place was so crowded,” she added.

Another eyewitness, Song Sehyun, told CNN that the street space was more like a “crowded subway” on Saturday night, with Halloween party goers so tightly packed that it was hard to move around.

Among the dead were citizens of dozens of countries.

Suah Chu added that people started pushing, and there was a lot of shouting. She eventually managed to turn around and escape to safety but saw people climbing buildings to stay alive. She added that the costumes people wear add to the confusion. “There was also a police officer screaming but we couldn’t tell (whether it was) a real police officer because a lot of people were in uniforms.”

Witnesses told CNN that there was very little — if any — crowd control before a crowd turned to death.

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

Flowers were laid at the site of the disaster.

Crowds are no stranger to that area, or to residents of Seoul, who are accustomed to subways and crowded streets in a city of nearly 10 million people.

After the first emergency calls came at around 10:24 p.m., authorities rushed to the scene – but the sheer volume of people made it difficult to reach those who needed help. Videos posted on social media showed people pressing other party-goers on the floor as they waited for medical help.

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

Among the dead was a nursing student at the University of Kentucky, according to a statement from university president Eli Capiloto. Capiloto said Ann Geske, a junior student from northern Kentucky, has been studying abroad in Seoul this semester.

A Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN that three South Korean military personnel were also among the dead.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duk-soo said at a press briefing that the South Korean government has set a period of national mourning starting until the end of November 5.

During the mourning period, all public institutions and diplomatic offices will raise flags for half the staff, Han said, adding that all non-urgent events will be postponed.

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

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