South Korea stampede: What we know so far about the crowd crush that left dozens dead

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Dozens of mostly young people have been left dead in a crowd crush at Halloween festivities in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul – with more than 1,700 emergency workers deployed to the scene.

Officials say the stampede took place after a large crowd pushed forward on a narrow street during festivities.

Here, Sky News looks at how and what possibly caused the tragedy – which is being touted as one of South Korea’s biggest-ever disasters.

South Korea stampede live updates

What happened?

At least 146 people have been killed and 150 others were injured after the stampede in Seoul on Saturday night, according to local fire authorities.

The victims were crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow alley in the South Korean capital’s Itaewon neighbourhood, a major leisure and nightlife district in the capital.

More on South Korea

Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said the number of deaths could rise and that an unspecified number of the injured were in critical condition – with at least 50 people being treated for cardiac arrest.

“A number of people fell during a Halloween festival, and we have a large number of casualties,” Mr Choi said.

He said the bodies were being taken to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them.

He added that most of the dead and injured are women in their 20s and many of them were killed near a nightclub.

Some witnesses said the crowd had become increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening went on. The incident happened at about 10.20pm (1.20pm GMT).

Many described chaotic scenes moments before the crush, with police officers on hand at the event in anticipation of having trouble maintaining control of the crowds.

Image:
All of Seoul’s available emergency personnel were deployed to the stampede scene

What caused the stampede?

It is not clear what prompted the crowd surge, although some local media reports said a large number of people had rushed to the area after hearing an unidentified celebrity had been there.

Witnesses said people had flooded into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon.

One witness, in his 20s, told Yonhap news agency: “As people in the front fell over, those in the back were crushed.”

Footage posted online showed hundreds of people packed in the narrow, sloped alley crushed and immobile as emergency officials and police tried to pull them free.

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Huge crowds at festivities in Seoul

Mr Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all the deaths were likely from the crush in the single narrow alley.

Other footage showed chaotic scenes of fire officials and citizens treating dozens of people who appeared to be unconscious.

Police will also be investigating whether bars and clubs in the area were complying with safety regulations, media reported.

What witnesses are saying

Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of trouble in the alleys before the incident.

“It was at least more than 10 times crowded than usual,” he told Reuters news agency.

A survivor named Kim told Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper that people fell and toppled on one another “like dominos” after they were pushed by others in the narrow street.

Kim said some people shouted: “Help me!”

Others were short of breath.

Kim described being trampled by other people for about 1.5 hours before being rescued.

Officials say the death toll could rise
Image:
Officials say the death toll could rise

Another survivor, named Lee Chang-kyu, told the newspaper he saw five or six men start pushing others before one or two began falling at the start of the stampede.

In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies laid down in the alley near the Hamilton Hotel.

He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets.

People cried beside bodies, he added.

A stampede in Itaewon, Seoul.
Image:
The stampede took place during Halloween festivities in Itaewon, Seoul

Emergency response

All available emergency services personnel in Seoul were deployed to the streets to treat the injured following the stampede.

The National Fire Agency says that more than 1,700 personnel from across South Korea were sent, including 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers, and 70 government workers.

Post-pandemic crowds

Itaewon is popular with young people who flock to its bars and restaurants – so after three years of COVID restrictions, many were keen to experience their first Halloween festivities together.

Curfews on bars and restaurants and a limit of 10 people for private gatherings were lifted in April, and an outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May.

Some estimates said there were about 100,000 people at Saturday night’s event.

“You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks… but this was several ten-folds bigger than any of that,” Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene.

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