Death toll in Seoul Halloween stampede rises to 153 seriously injured (6th Ld)

Seoul: The death toll from the Halloween stampede in South Korea’s capital Seoul has reached 153 and could rise, with 19 people seriously injured.

The deadliest stampede in South Korea’s history took place Saturday night in a narrow four-meter-wide downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel in the popular nightlife district, after tens of thousands of people visited the area for Halloween, Yonhap news agency reported.

The stampede marked the worst tragedy in South Korea since the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014, which killed 304 people, mostly high school students.

It was Seoul’s first Halloween event in three years, after the country lifted many of its COVID-19 restrictions. Most of the people on the streets were dressed in Halloween costumes.

Of those killed, the majority of at least 97 were women, and observers said women took a greater hit mainly because of their relatively smaller stature combined with typically heavier Halloween costumes.

The number of foreigners killed has risen to 22, according to fire services.

They are four each from China and Iran; three from Russia; and one each from the United States, France, Australia, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Austria, they said. The nationality of the latest victim has not yet been established.

However, the interior ministry put the number of foreign victims at 20.

An explanation for the discrepancy was not immediately available.

The police have also launched an investigation to establish the exact causes of the incident.

Fire officials initially received dozens of calls from people in the Itaewon area – home to expat communities with trendy nightlife and chic restaurants – about patients having difficulty breathing. The first report was made at around 22:15

Witnesses and survivors say a massive group of people rushed into the back alley and the stampede began “instantly” after some people fell and caused others to fall like “dominoes” and pile on top of each other, unable to move or breathe.

The back alley in question is a 4m by 40m drop-off walkway that connects a busy restaurant district to a high street where only about six adults can walk at a time.

“People kept pushing down an alley at a downhill club, causing other people to scream and fall like dominoes,” an unidentified witness wrote on Twitter. “I thought I was going to be squashed to death too as people kept on jostling, not realizing that there were people falling at the start of the jostling.”

Videos show rescue workers and ordinary people desperately performing CPR on victims in the streets.

The sudden influx of about 300 patients in need of CPR and other first aid measures also left rescuers short-handed, while heavy traffic returning home in the area added further difficulties, according to witnesses.

President Yoon Suk-yeol addressed the nation live from the presidential office, saying Saturday’s “tragedy and disaster should never have happened.”

He also declared a period of national mourning and ordered flags to be lowered.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo later told reporters that the mourning period would last from Sunday to Saturday on Yoon’s instructions, and that a mourning altar would be set up in downtown Seoul to allow people to pay their respects to the victims.

Han also announced that the Yeongsan area, which includes Itaewon, will be designated as a special disaster area where family members of the victims will be awarded compensation and funeral expenses. The medical expenses of the injured will also be borne.

World leaders from US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to Mexican President Andres Manuel sent messages of condolences and support to South Korea.

Biden expressed his “deepest condolences.”

“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul. We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all who were injured,” Biden said in a statement, referring to first lady Jill Biden.

“The alliance between our two countries has never been more vital or more vitally important – and the bonds between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands by the Republic of Korea at this tragic time,” he said.

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