Survivors recount the chaotic scene in Seoul during the tragic Halloween stampede

Updated October 30, 2022 at 4:04 pm ET

In the hours since a destructive mob claimed the lives of more than 150 people in the South Korean capital, details have begun to emerge that highlight just how chaotic the scene was.

Authorities say that in addition to the dead, more than 130 others are injured, many of them young adults in Seoul’s Itaewon district. A popular neighborhood in Seoul hosted Halloween celebrations that attracted around 100,000 people when the crowd started. Many tried to gather in a narrow street lined with bars and restaurants, according to local media.

videos appeared online showing a mere mass of people crammed into at least one narrow street lined with bars and restaurants. Some people can be heard screaming and most seem completely unable to move.

One worker at the Itaewon club, located at the end of the hill of a roughly 11-foot-wide alleyway leading to the district’s main street, recalled to reporters that he saw a crowd of revelers gathering on Saturday night.

“We heard some people in the crowd saying don’t push, but someone in the back said, hey, push! Push! And people started screaming and the crowd came towards our club,” he said.

The man, who declined to give his name to reporters, said they usually don’t let minors into their club, but they opened their doors to try to save lives.

“But even after we did that, people collapsed at the entrance and some passed out,” he added. “We tried to save them but our club was at the end of the wave and there were already three or four layers of people there so we couldn’t.

He said his inability to help people “still haunts and hurts me.”

other videos shared on social networks several people, some in their Halloween costumes, attempted CPR on the lines of unconscious victims on the sidewalks.

A police officer stands guard at the scene of a deadly stampede during the Halloween festival.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images


Getty Images

A police officer stands guard at the scene of a deadly stampede during the Halloween festival.

The survivors try to find friends

Most of the dead were identified by mid-morning on Sunday. The task was simplified by the fact that Korean citizens over the age of 17 are required to submit their fingerprints to the authorities.

Koreans and foreign nationals missing friends and relatives came to a nearby community center to try to identify photographs of the victims.

Park Kang-hyun, 26, traveled to Seoul from the southeastern city of Gwangju to search for two missing friends. According to him, one lost her mobile phone but survived. The other remains missing.

A friend who survived said: “There were just too many people. They didn’t feel for a moment that they were afraid. They all just fell over.”

He continued to search for his other friend, but city officials “just told me to wait. There’s nothing we can do now.”

Nathan Taverniti (24) was on holiday from Australia. He told reporters that he was in Itaewon with three friends.

Relatives of missing people cry at a community center in Seoul, South Korea.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images


Getty Images

Relatives of missing people cry at a community center in Seoul, South Korea.

“I was there all night. Some people fell in front of me and I lost a group of my friends,” he said. “Somehow I got out, but all three of my friends… two are in the hospital and one died,” he said, choking back tears.

“There was no police. There was no one to help me,” he said. “It was just me and other bystanders. And I couldn’t do anything.”

After the surge in the crowd, questions began to arise as to whether more police should be sent to the area to help control the large crowds. Korean Herald reports that rescue teams in the area had difficulty reaching the scene and the hundreds of victims due to crowds and other traffic jams.

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min rejected the idea that more could have been done to prevent the tragedy, he said Korean Herald. The website quotes Lee as saying that the stampede did not appear to be “an incident that could have been prevented by the deployment of more police or firefighters.”

The Halloween event has been held before and according to local media reports there were no concerns that crowds would be a particular problem this year or larger than previous events.

Two Americans are among the dead

South Korean national flags are flown at half-mast on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, at a government complex in Seoul, South Korea.
South Korean national flags are flown at half-mast on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, at a government complex in Seoul, South Korea.

At least two American citizens were among those killed in the deadly rampage, the US Embassy in Seoul confirmed.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives last night, including two young Americans celebrating alongside their Korean friends and others from around the world,” US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Philip Goldberg said in a statement.

in statement on TwitterPresident Biden also expressed his condolences.

“Jill and I are devastated to learn that at least two Americans are among the many who have lost their lives in Seoul. Our hearts go out to their loved ones at this time of grief and we continue to pray for the healing of all who were injured.” said the president.

One of those who died was University of Kentucky student Anne Gieske, the school announced Sunday. Gieske was a junior nursing student from Northern Kentucky studying in South Korea as part of a study abroad program.

Two other students and a faculty member who are also in South Korea for the semester have been contacted and confirmed to be safe, the university said.

“We will be there for those in our community who knew and loved Anne. We also have almost 80 South Korean students in the UK – members of our community – who will need our support,” Eli Capilouto, the university’s president, said in a statement. to the school community.

At least 26 foreign nationals were killed in the incident as of 21:00 local time on Sunday, according to local media reports.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is working with local authorities to provide consular assistance to all affected U.S. citizens, a spokesperson told NPR.

In response to the tragedy, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo announced a period of national mourning that will last until midnight on November 5.

The government has declared Seoul’s Yongsan area, where Itaewon is located, a special disaster area. Under this designation, the government will pay funeral fees for the dead, medical expenses for the injured, and comfort payments to bereaved families.

NPR’s Se Eun Gong contributed to this report from Seoul.

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