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October 30, 2022 South Korea crowd surge news
By Matt Meyer, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN
US President Joe Biden offered condolences to the families of the Americans who were killed during the crowd surge at packed Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
"Our hearts go out to their loved ones in this time of grief, and we continue to pray for their recovery," Biden tweeted Sunday.
The US State Department confirmed the two fatalities and said three US citizens were also injured after attending the event in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood.
View Biden's tweet here:
A first responder to Saturday's crowd surge disaster in Itaewon, Seoul, has given a firsthand account of the distressing sight that confronted emergency workers at the scene. They spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
"At 10:23 p.m. (9:24 a.m. ET) we received more than five reports that people fell, and they could either get hurt or die," the first responder told CNN.
“We had bad feelings receiving the dispatch order yesterday. We knew that a lot of people would be out there because of Halloween, and that the alley is narrow. We knew that the alley goes a long way before connecting with the roadside. So, we took the reports seriously, that there could be deaths from pressure, if the alley was indeed filled with people,” they said.
"When we arrived [at the scene], we were only able to see seven, eight — no, ten — rows of faces, we couldn’t even see their legs," they said.
The first responder said that they first pulled people out from the bottom of the crowd because "we thought they were most urgent."
"When we were pulling them out, they were becoming delirious. And when we laid them (on the ground), most of them were unconscious," they said.
The US State Department says that in addition to the two fatalities previously reported, three Americans were injured in Saturday's deadly crowd surge in central Seoul.
A State Department official confirmed the news to CNN Sunday.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ “is deeply saddened by the tragic incident” in Seoul, according to a statement distributed Sunday by his spokesman.
South Korea is searching for answers after Halloween celebrations in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon turned into one of the country’s worst disasters, with authorities declaring a national mourning period as they investigate how a chaotic crush left at least 154 people dead.
The secretary-general's spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Guterres’ “expresses his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of the Republic of Korea, and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.”
The death toll following Saturday's crowd surge at a packed Halloween celebration in Seoul climbed to 154 dead, South Korea's Interior and Safety Ministry said Sunday.
According to the ministry at least 26 foreign nationals died in the tragedy.
The ministry said it is taking all measures to provide support to bereaved relatives of the foreigners killed in the disaster, such as allowing entry into South Korea and helping with funeral arrangements.
As a stunned and grieving South Korea grapples with a tragedy that killed at least 153 people, questions are emerging about how such a disaster could have unfolded in a popular area where people are known to gather.
It’s hard to pinpoint what might have triggered the crush – but authorities “would have anticipated high numbers … before Saturday night,” said Juliette Kayyem, a disaster management expert and national security analyst for CNN.
“There is a responsibility on the part of the authorities to be monitoring crowd volume in real time, so they can sense the need to get people out,” she added.
Suah Cho, 23, was caught up in the crowd but managed to escape into a building along the alley. When asked whether she had seen any officials trying to limit the number of people entering the alley, she replied: “Before the incident, not at all.”
Another eyewitness described the situation getting “worse and worse,” saying they could hear “people asking for help for other people, because there were not enough rescuers that can just handle all that.”
What officials are saying: Lee Sang-min, Minister of the Interior and Safety, said on Sunday that “a considerable number” of police and security forces had been sent to another part of Seoul on Saturday in response to expected protests there.
Meanwhile in Itaewon, the crowd had not been unusually large, he said, so only a “normal” level of security forces had been deployed there.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has vowed to implement new measures to prevent similar incidents from happening again, saying the government would “conduct emergency inspections not only for Halloween events but also for local festivals and thoroughly manage them so they are conducted in an orderly and safe manner.”
It's been a little more than 24 hours since a deadly crowd surge in Seoul, South Korea turned a night of Halloween celebration into a tragic national emergency.
Tens of thousands of people had packed the streets of the popular Itaewon neighborhood Saturday before the crowd grew so dense that people became trapped and panicked.
If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know:
- Packed streets reach a breaking point: Officials are still investigating exactly what took place. What's clear is that the crowds grew too large, and authorities started getting calls about people "buried" in the masses around 10:30 p.m. local time. Panicked partygoers were pressed against one another with nowhere to go.
- The full scope of the tragedy takes shape: With so many people hospitalized or unaccounted for, official death and injury tolls weren't initially clear. By Sunday night local time, officials confirmed at least 153 people were killed and 133 others hurt.
- Families search for loved ones: South Korea's president urged officials to quickly identify victims for the sake of worried families. By Sunday afternoon, more than 90% of the deceased had been identified. CNN spoke to a mother who was desperately searching hospitals for her daughter.
- A young, global crowd of revelers: Authorities say the vast majority of those hurt or killed in the crush were in their late teens or early 20s. Itaewon is famed for its Halloween celebrations, and it drew partygoers from near and far. More than a dozen embassies confirmed citizens from their countries were among the victims.
- Demand was pent up for the celebration: Recent celebrations were muted by pandemic restrictions on crowd sizes and mask mandates in Itaewon. Saturday night marked the first Halloween since the country lifted these restrictions. Hotels and ticketed events in the neighborhood were booked solid.
- Never again, president vows: First responders said no apparent fire or gas leak prompted the panic, and little more is known about what exactly went wrong. Officials face questions about whether they could have better managed the crowds. South Korea's president vowed to implement new policies to prevent such tragedies.
f you’re in a crowd and people are close enough to bump against you, it could be getting too crowded.
That’s according to G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk and head of GKStill International, a consultancy that trains event organizers on how to spot danger.
Such events, like the apparent crowd surge at packed Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital of Seoul and the tragedy at Houston’s Astroworld Festival in Nov. 2021, have led to multiple deaths and injuries.
Still, who has been studying the dynamics of crowd behavior and safety for over 30 years, said organizers can help prevent crowd-crushing incidents by monitoring a crowd’s density in real-time and regulating the flow of people into a venue.
Crowd density can be calculated in number of people per square meter, roughly a square yard. Younger, smaller people occupy less space than older and larger people, but as a rule things get uncomfortable once you reach five people per square meter, Still said — and anything more crowded can become dangerous.
“When bodies are touching, that high energy and density can give rise to these surges and crowd collapses,” Still said.
One sign a crowd has become too dense is what Still called a “field of wheat effect,” where people are uncontrollably swaying. He said an example is visible in online videos of a 2005 Oasis concert in Manchester, England, just before a big surge rippled through the crowd toward the stage.
The key to preventing a disaster, Still said, is for organizers to watch the density and, if it starts to get high, slow or stop the flow of people entering the area. He said it’s much harder to reduce crowding once the situation has become too dense.
If a venue does get too crowded, Still said, performers should stop and ask everyone to take a step back. Over the years, several performers, including A$AP Rocky and Linkin Park, have done exactly that.
If you’re in a crowd, Still said you can help yourself stay safe by watching out for areas likely to become most crowded, and making your way out of the crowd if you don’t have enough personal space.
You can learn more by viewing an interactive graphic here.