More than 140 people were killed Saturday and some 150 were injured in a horrific stampede in central Seoul when a large crowd celebrating Halloween crammed into a narrow street, officials said.
AFP photos from the scene showed scores of bodies spread on the pavement covered by bed sheets and emergency workers dressed in orange vests loading even more bodies on stretchers into ambulances.
The stampede took place near the Hamilton Hotel in the nightlife district of Itaewon where a large number of people entered a narrow alley near the hotel.
Fire Department official Choi Seong-beom said the stampede occurred around 10:00 pm (1300 GMT) and many of the victims were trampled to death.
“The high number of casualties was the result of many being trampled during the Halloween event,” Choi said, adding that the death toll could climb.
In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to the victims described scenes of tragedy and chaos.
“When I first attempted CPR there were two victims lying on the pavement. But the number exploded soon after, outnumbering first responders at the scene,” Lee said. “Many bystanders came to help us with CPR.”
“It’s hard to put in words to describe,” he added. “So many victims’ faces were pale. I could not catch their pulse or breath and many of them had a bloody nose. When I tried CPR, I also pumped blood out of their mouths.”
The Yonhap news agency also quoted an unidentified witness as saying he saw victims crushed to death.
“People were layered on top of others like a tomb. Some were gradually losing their consciousness while some looked dead by that point,” the witness said, according to Yonhap.
‘Hoping for a quick recovery’
Choi said the victims’ bodies are being transferred to a gym not far from the site of the stampede to be identified.
Local television showed scores of ambulances streaming to the Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital, where some of the victims had been taken.
Officials had said earlier that 50 people were in cardiac arrest and that more than 140 ambulances were dispatched to the scene to aid the victims.
President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered officials to dispatch first aid teams and to swiftly secure hospital beds for those affected, the presidential office said.
Meanwhile, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who was on a visit to Europe, decided to return home in the wake of the accident, Yonhap reported, citing city officials.
In Washington, Seoul’s staunch ally, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan wrote on Twitter that “the reports out of Seoul are heartbreaking.”
“We are thinking about all those who lost loved ones and hoping for a quick recovery for those injured,” Sullivan said. “The United States stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”
French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile offered his country’s “heartfelt” support, adding that “France is by your side.”
Emergency first aid
Video footage from the scene of the crush showed people performing emergency first aid on several victims who appeared to be prone on the pavement, while rescue workers rushed to help others.
Yellow-jacketed policemen formed a cordon around the site of the crush, with rescue officials loading victims — some of whom were covered with blankets — into ambulances.
Around two dozen people were entirely covered by makeshift blankets on the roadside.
Emergency workers carried them off on wheeled stretchers to waiting ambulances.
This year’s celebration is the first since the pandemic broke out in 2020 at which South Koreans have not been mandated to wear face masks outdoors.