2 Americans Are Among The Dead In The Halloween Crowd Surge In Seoul
At least two U.S. citizens were among those killed in the deadly crowd surge in South Korea's capital on Saturday night, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul has confirmed.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives last night, to include two young Americans celebrating alongside their Korean friends and others from around the world," U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Philip Goldberg said in a statement.
Authorities say more than 150 people are dead and 133 injured, many of whom were young adults celebrating Halloween.
As of 9 p.m. Sunday local time, officials say at least 26 foreign nationals were killed in the incident in the Itaewon neighborhood, according to local media reports.
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is working with local authorities and providing consular assistance to any U.S. citizens affected, a spokesman told NPR.
The popular district in Seoul was hosting Halloween celebrations that drew around 100,000 people when the crowd surge began. Many were attempting to gather in a narrow alley filled with bars and restaurants, according to local media.
In response to the tragedy, South Korea Prime Minister Han Duck-soo announced a period of national mourning to last until midnight on Nov. 5.
The government has declared Seoul's Yongsan district, where Itaewon is located, a special disaster area. Under this designation, the government will pay funeral fees for the dead, medical costs for the injured, and consolation payments to bereaved families.
Details of just how chaotic the scene was in Itaewon have begun to emerge in the hours since news of the crush made headlines around the world.
Videos have popped up online showing the sheer mass of people crowded into at least one tight street. Some people can be heard screaming, and most appear completely unable to move.
One worker at an Itaewon club, located at the uphill end of the roughly 11-foot-wide alley leading to the district's main street, recalled to reporters seeing the crowd of revelers surge on Saturday night.
"We could hear some people in the crowd saying, don't push, but someone in the back said, hey, push! Push! And people started screaming, and the crowd poured in toward our club," he said.
The man, who declined to give his name to reporters, said they would ordinarily not let minors into their club, but they opened their doors to try to save lives.
"But even after we did that, there were people collapsed at the entrance, and some passed out," he added. "We tried to rescue them, but our club was at the end of the surge and there were already three or four layers of people piled on, so we couldn't."
He said his inability to help people "keeps haunting me, and pains me."
Other videos shared on social media show several people, some clad in their Halloween costumes, attempting CPR on rows victims unconscious on sidewalks.
Survivors struggle to locate friends
Most of the dead had been identified by mid-morning on Sunday. The task was simplified by the fact that Korean citizens over the age of 17 are required to submit fingerprints to authorities.
Koreans and foreign nationals who are missing friends and relatives came to a nearby community center to try to identify pictures of the victims.
Park Kang-hyun, 26, traveled to Seoul from Gwangju city, in the country's southeast, in search of two missing friends. One lost her cell phone but survived, he said. The other remains missing.
The friend who survived said "there were just too many people. They didn't even have a moment to feel scared. Everyone just fell down."
He continued to search for his other friend, but city officials "just told me to wait. There's nothing we can do now."
Nathan Taverniti, 24, was on vacation from Australia. He told reporters he was in Itaewon with three friends.
"I was there the whole night. Some people fell in front of me, and I lost a group of my friends," he said. "Somehow, I got out, but all three of my friends ... two are in hospital, and one has passed away," he said, fighting back tears.
"There was no police. There was nobody to help me," he said. "It was just me and other bystanders. And I couldn't do anything."
NPR's Se Eun Gong contributed to this report from Seoul.