what we know about the deadly halloween disaster in seoul
South Korea – On Saturday evening, tens of thousands of people poured into downtown Seoul to celebrate Halloween, but as the crowd grew, panic erupted, with some bystanders saying it became difficult to breathe and unable to move.
On Sunday, the death toll rose to 154, with dozens injured. Authorities have launched an urgent investigation to find out how what was supposed to be a holiday night went so horribly wrong as families across the country grieve and search for missing loved ones.
Why were the crowds so big?
Itaewon has long been a popular place to celebrate Halloween, especially since the holiday has become more popular in Asia in recent years. Some even fly to Seoul from other countries in the region for the celebrations.
But over the past two years, celebrations have been muted by pandemic restrictions on crowd sizes and mandatory mask-wearing.
Saturday night marked the first Halloween since the country lifted these restrictions, making it a special event for many active participants in Seoul as well as international visitors, including foreign residents and tourists.
Hotels and tickets for neighborhood events were booked in advance and large crowds were expected.
Videos and photos posted on social media show crowds of people standing shoulder to shoulder in a narrow street.
Crowds are not unusual for the area or for Seoul residents, who are used to the packed streets and subways in a city of nearly 10 million people.
One eyewitness said it took some time for people to realize something was wrong when people’s panicked screams competed with the music coming from nearby clubs and bars.
Who were the victims?
The victims were young, mostly in their 20s and 20s, authorities said. Known for its nightlife and trendy restaurants, Itaewon is popular with tourists and international students.
At least 26 foreign nationals were among the 154 dead, authorities said, including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
All but one of the victims have been identified, South Korean Prime Minister Han Dak-soo said at a briefing on Monday. According to the South Korean Ministry of Interior and Security, 56 men and 97 women were among the dead.
South Korea’s education ministry said on Monday that six schoolchildren were among the dead, including one in a high school. Three teachers also died.
As of 5:00 p.m., the ministry said Sunday local time (4:00 a.m. ET) had raised the number of casualties to 133, of which 37 were seriously injured.