South Korean authorities are investigating a crowd surge that has left at least 154 partygoers dead in Seoul.
The country has begun a week-long period of mourning while officials try to figure out how the devastating crash happened.
Among the dead are at least 26 foreigners, including two US citizens. Over 10 of her embassies around the world have confirmed victims in their own countries.
It’s unclear what caused Saturday’s surge, but eyewitnesses said people were enjoying the first Halloween weekend since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Itaewon, the capital’s nightlife district. The narrow streets were packed with partygoers.
Nearly all victims (at least 150) have been identified. Police told CNN. The toll included 56 men and 97 women, South Korea’s Ministry of Interior and Security reported.
South Korea’s education ministry said on Monday that six students had died, including one in middle school. Three teachers also died.
As of 5:00 pm local time (4:00 am ET) on Sunday, 133 people were injured, 37 of them seriously, the ministry said.
“There was a line of people in tarps on the street,” Emily Farmer, a 27-year-old English teacher who passed by Itaewon in Seoul, told CNN.
Farmer and her friends are “overwhelmed” by the street crowd and decide to enter a bar. Shortly after, rumors began circulating that someone had died, and patrons were unable to leave. Farmer said she received an emergency message from the government warning that “the area is in danger” and she was allowed to leave the bar after learning of the scale of the tragedy.
“It was terrible,” she said. “Not all died instantly.” A group of people were crying, she added. Many victims were receiving her CPR and had their costumes removed so that on-site doctors could resuscitate them. “It was so crowded that they were still dragging people out,” she added.
Another eyewitness, Sung Sehyun, told CNN that the street space was like a “crowded subway” on Saturday night, packed with Halloween partygoers making it difficult to move around.
Sua Cho added that people started pushing and pushing and there was a lot of screaming. She added that the costumes people were wearing added to the confusion. She said, “There were also cops screaming, but there were so many people in costume that I couldn’t tell if they were real cops.”
Witnesses told CNN that there was little, if any, crowd control before a large number of people died.
Videos and photos posted on social media show people standing shoulder to shoulder in narrow streets.
Crowds are not uncommon for Seoul residents, accustomed to crowded subways and streets in the area and in a city of about 10 million people.
After the first emergency call was made around 10:24 pm, authorities rushed to the scene, but too many people had difficulty reaching those in need. Videos posted on social media showed people applying pressure to other partygoers lying on the ground while waiting for medical help.
Many countries, including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway and France, have confirmed that their citizens are among the victims.
A nursing student was among the dead, according to a statement from University of Kentucky president Eli Capilut. Kapilout said Ann Zeisk, from northern Kentucky, was studying in Seoul this semester.
A South Korean defense ministry official told CNN that three South Korean military personnel were also killed.
Prime Minister Han Duk-soo said at a press conference that the South Korean government had set a nationwide mourning period until November 5.
During the period of mourning, all public and diplomatic offices will fly flags at half staff, Han said, adding that all non-urgent events will be postponed.
Civil servants and employees of public institutions wear ribbons to show their condolences during the mourning period, Han said.