Steph Deschamps / October 30, 2022
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol promised Sunday a “rigorous” investigation into the stampede that killed at least 151 people the night before in central Seoul, where tens of thousands of mostly very young revelers were celebrating Halloween for the first time after the pandemic.
Deploring “a tragedy and a disaster that should not have happened”, Mr. Yoon promised that his government would investigate “rigorously” to determine the causes of the disaster, one of the most serious in the recent history of South Korea, and ensure that it “does not happen again”.
“I have a heavy heart and it is difficult for me to contain my grief,” added the head of state in a televised address, who went to the scene of the tragedy on Sunday morning, wearing the green jacket of the emergency services, and declared national mourning.
Bodies lined up on the sidewalk under blankets or other makeshift shrouds, heart massages performed in the street by passers-by at the request of overworked firefighters, people in disguises or in party clothes running in panic: the night turned into a nightmare in Itaewon, a neighborhood located near a former U.S. military base and known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its bars and party places of all kinds in a maze of narrow streets.
“My friend said to me: there is something terrible happening outside,” said Jeon Ga-eul, 30, who was having a drink in a bar at the time of the tragedy. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? I went out to see, and I saw people doing CPR
The accident occurred on Saturday around 22:00 near the Hamilton Hotel, located on a main avenue surrounded by steep alleys. The crowd movement, which is currently unknown what triggered it, killed at least 151 people, including 19 foreigners of various nationalities, 97 women and 54 men, firefighters told AFP. They added that the disaster had injured 89 people.
Among the foreigners killed were people from Iran, China, Uzbekistan and Norway, according to Yonhap news agency. Two Russians are also among the dead, according to the Tass agency.
The authorities in Seoul have also reported 355 people missing early Sunday morning.
People were lying on top of each other like in a grave. Some were gradually losing consciousness, others were obviously dead,” an unidentified witness told Yonhap.
Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to the victims, described scenes of chaos and horror.
“When I first tried to perform CPR, there were two victims lying on the sidewalk. But soon after the number exploded,” he told YTN television.
“Many bystanders came to help us perform CPR,” he continued. “It’s hard to describe in words (…) Many of the victims had pale faces. I couldn’t take their pulse or control their breathing, and many of them had bloody noses. »
A video shared on Twitter by an Internet user who said she was in Itaewon at the time of the tragedy shows hundreds of people, many in cowboy, pirate and other outfits, on a street lined with bars. The scene, calm at first, suddenly turns into confusion. Passers-by are pushed and fall on top of each other between screams and panic. A woman swears in English: “Oh my God! Oh my God! »
About 100,000 people, according to media estimates, had come to Itaewon for this Halloween party, the first in Seoul since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“The size of the crowd expected in Itaewon was not much different from previous years, so I think the personnel deployed were on a similar scale to before,” said Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, adding that a “considerable number” of police officers were at the same time in another part of the capital to oversee a large demonstration.
Many international leaders have expressed their dismay. “We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who were injured,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“I am terribly shocked and deeply saddened” by this accident “which took too many precious lives, including those of young people who had the future ahead of them,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “an emotional thought for the people of Seoul and for all the Korean people.” “This is a sad day for South Korea,” tweeted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.