Seoul, South Korea
South Korean authorities said on Monday they had no guidelines for dealing with the huge crowds that gathered to celebrate Halloween in Seoul, as families in the country and around the world mourned the 154 people. Saturday night crowd crush victims.
The explosion occurred in the narrow, neon-lit alleys of popular nightlife district Itaewon, with witnesses describing not being able to move or breathe as thousands of revelers stood shoulder to shoulder on a street no more than 4 meters (13 feet) wide. .
Hectic families spent Lots of Sunday Gathering at information centers where authorities collected details of the dead and wounded, contacting morgues and hospitals in a desperate attempt to locate missing relatives.
With all the victims now identified, panic has turned into national grief as the country grapples with one of the worst disasters ever – while parents abroad make arrangements for their deceased children in a foreign land.
Official memorial altars were held in central Seoul on Monday, with photos showing crowds visiting to pay their respects. Many were shedding tears and bore white flowers; Others knelt and worshiped at the altar.
South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol, his wife Kim Kyun-hee, and senior officials including the prime minister and the mayor of Seoul joined the mourners.
Many stores and businesses were closed to mark a week of national mourning. Parts of Central Seoul were almost deserted – a very unusual sight in usually A bustling metropolis of about 10 million people.
People also paid their respects at a makeshift memorial in Itaewon, outside a subway station near the alley where the stampede occurred. The entrance to the station is decorated with rows of flowers and displays such as handwritten notes, bottles of Korean soju liquor, and paper cups filled with drinks.
Among the mourners were a civilian group of families bereaved in the Seoul Ferry disaster, which killed 304 people – mostly teenagers on a school trip – when the ship sank in 2014.
“As someone who has experienced the same pain, my heart has been ripped apart and I am speechless,” one of the group members told reporters at the memorial, adding that families were grieving to see “a major disaster like this repeat itself.”
Down the street, the entrance to the alley was cordoned off, and security personnel were standing guard as forensic teams in white protective suits roamed the area, still littered with rubbish and debris.
Amid this grief, questions arose about the government’s handling of the incident and the apparent lack of crowd control before the tragedy.
One of the survivors, 22-year-old French exchange student Anne Le Chevalier, told CNN that she passed out in the crowd after being “crushed” by fellow revelers. “At one point I had no air, and we were so broken to other people that I couldn’t breathe at all. I just passed out,” Chevalier said.
Several eyewitnesses and survivors said they saw few or no police officers in the area before the situation deteriorated.
Earlier on Sunday, the interior and safety minister said that only a “normal” level of security personnel had been deployed in Itaewon because the crowd there did not appear unusually large – while a “large number” of police were sent to another part of Seoul in response. the expected protests.
But – in the face of a backlash from Korean politicians and on social media – authorities appeared to change tack on Monday, saying they had deployed about 137 personnel to Itaewon that night, compared to about 30 to 70 personnel in previous years before the pandemic.
Oh Seung-jin, director of the Violent Crime Investigation Division at the National Police Agency.
However, he admitted that “there is currently no separate preparation guide for such a situation where no regulator is expected and a crowd gathering is expected”. Moreover, the police were not deployed to control crowds – but to prevent crime and prevent “various illegal activities”.
Kim Seung-ho, director of the Department of Disaster Management and Safety at the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, echoed the comments, saying they had no “guidance or guideline” for such an “unprecedented situation”.
Most of the victims were young people who went to Itaewon on Saturday night, excited for the first Halloween celebrations in South Korea in years without Covid restrictions.
Of the 154 dead, 12 were teenagers and 102 were in their twenties, the Ministry of Interior and Safety said in its situation report on Monday, with 55 men and 99 women killed.
These include 26 foreigners from countries including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Another 149 people were injured, 33 of them seriously, including 15 foreign nationals.
The Korean Ministry of Education said that six students enrolled in schools in Seoul — one middle school student and five high school students — were among the dead, along with three teachers.
A Korean Defense Ministry official said three South Korean soldiers were also among the dead.
Two American undergraduates—Stephen Plessy of Georgia and Anne Jeske of Kentucky—were introduced, both in their young years.
Plessy’s father, Steve Plessy, said his son had “always been an adventurer.” He said he was an Eagle Scout, he loved basketball and wanted to learn multiple languages.
“Maybe within half an hour before this tragedy happened, I texted him on WhatsApp…” I know you’re abroad. Stay safe. I love you.’ Steve said. “He had an incredibly bright future and he’s gone now.”
Dan Jeske, Anne’s father, said in a statement Sunday night that the family was “totally broken and heartbroken,” calling Anne “a shining light that everyone loves.”
Ann was a nursing student studying abroad in Seoul this semester, the president of the University of Kentucky said.
The father of Mii Tomikawa, a 26-year-old Japanese exchange student who was killed in the stampede, told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK that he was “prepared for the worst” when he couldn’t get to her.
He said she was studying Korean before she started school in Seoul, and spoke before traveling from Japan to South Korea on Monday.
“I tried calling her to warn her to be careful, but she didn’t answer her phone,” he said, according to NHK. “She was a great daughter…I want to see my daughter as soon as possible.”
The family of the Australian victim, Grace Rashid, also issued a statement on Monday calling her a “talented film producer who is passionate about making a difference.”
“We miss our wonderful angel Grace who lit up a room with her infectious smile. Grace always made others feel important and her kindness made an impression on everyone she met. Grace was always caring and everyone was loved.”
The authorities are now working with embassies and foreign families abroad, providing support with funeral arrangements. As the week goes on, more names and faces of those who died are likely to emerge as the nation searches for answers about how such a disaster — in an area known to be crowded on Halloween, with weeks of festivities planned — might unfold.