South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, has declared a period of national mourning following a deadly Halloween crush in the country’s capital, Seoul, as distraught relatives flocked to the city’s hospitals searching for their missing family members.
“This is truly tragic,” Yoon said in a statement on Sunday, hours after some 153 people were killed in a crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon district.
“The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning,” he said.
Fire officials said most of the victims were women and young people in their 20s and included 19 foreigners from Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Norway.
A further 133 people were also injured, 37 seriously.
The Yonhap news agency called the disaster, which happened shortly after 10pm local (13:00 GMT) when a huge crowd thronged a narrow alley near the Hamilton Hotel, the deadliest of such incident in South Korean history.
It happened at the first Halloween celebrations in Seoul in three years, after the country lifted COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing. Tens of thousands of partygoers, wearing masks and Halloween costumes, had reportedly gone to Itaewon for the event.
The cause of the crush was not immediately clear, though some local media said it happened after a large group of people rushed to a bar in the area after hearing an unidentified celebrity visited there.
Witnesses described scrambling to get out of the suffocating crowd in the downhill alley as people ended up piling on top of one another.
“People kept pushing down into a downhill club alley, resulting in other people screaming and falling down like dominos,” one unidentified witness was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency. “I thought I would be crushed to death too as people kept pushing without realising there were people falling down at the start of the stampede.”
“There were so many people just being pushed around and I got caught in the crowd and I couldn’t get out at first too,” 30-year-old Jeon Ga-eul told the AFP news agency. “I felt like an accident was bound to happen.”