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Seoul Korea Halloween crowd surge leaves at least 153 dead

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Relatives desperately searched for answers about the status of missing loved ones Sunday after a crowd surge in Seoul’s nightlife district left at least 153 people dead and 133 injured over the weekend.

Halloween revelers swelled into a narrow alley in the city’s Itaewon area Saturday night, leaving dozens of young people trampled and crushed on the street. Pedestrians and emergency officials administered CPR in attempts to aid those in cardiac arrest on the ground.

Thousands of people have contacted or visited city offices to report missing relatives and ask officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead, authorities said Sunday.

Two U.S. citizens were among those dead and three others were injured in the incident, the U.S. State Department confirmed Sunday in a statement to USA TODAY.

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the street. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Sunday called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large events in the wake of the tragedy.

Here’s what we know.

Witnesses describe the chaos: ‘It was like a hell’

Grant Hauck told USA TODAY he ran a mile toward the scene of the surge when he heard about the injuries in an attempt to help those injured using his emergency medical service, or EMS, experience from college. Upon arrival, he found several bodies in the street and multiple people trying to help.

“I turn the corner to the main street and there’s two or three ambulances, a fire truck and in the middle are like five or six bodies on the ground on one side of the street,” Hauck said.

Hauck said he assisted people administering CPR, making sure their technique was right. He pumped the chests of two injured people himself.

Hauck, a family member of a USA TODAY staffer, said he was “immediately overwhelmed” by the “mass trauma” event.

Other witnesses said the crowd surge caused “a hell-like” chaos as people fell on each other “like dominoes.” Some people bled from their noses and mouths while being given CPR, witnesses said, while others seemed to continue to party nearby without noticing.

“I still can’t believe what has happened. It was like a hell,” said Kim Mi Sung, who also performed CPR to multiple victims at the scene.

Ken Fallas, a witness who used his smartphone to film video showing unconscious people being carried out from the alley, said the loud music made the surge even more chaotic.

 “We didn’t hear anything because the music was really loud. Now, I think that was one of the main things that made this so complicated,” Fallas said.

What happened in Seoul?

Officials believe that tens of thousands of young people gathered in the area Saturday to celebrate Halloween – one of the largest gatherings in the city following the country’s reduction of its COVID-19 restrictions this year.

It’s unclear what led to the crowd surge, but some said many people fell and toppled one another after they were pushed by others. A survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.

Ninety-seven of the dead were women and 56 were men, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety reported Sunday. More than 80% of the dead are in their 20s and 30s, and at least four were teenagers. 

Twenty foreigners died in the stampede, according to the Interior Ministry: Four were from China; three from Russia; two from Iran; and one each from Vietnam, Austria, Norway, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka.

President Joe Biden offered condolences to the families of the two Americans killed in the crowd surge in a statement Sunday.

The death toll is likely to continue to rise as 37 of the injured people were still in serious condition Sunday, according to South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Itaewon, a hilly neighborhood in Seoul that was previously near an American military base, is a popular area for tourists and foreign residents because of its nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

WHAT WENT WRONG AT ASTROWORLD’S CROWD SURGE?: Expert: It took ‘everything going wrong, like dominoes’

Crowd surge deadliest in country’s history

A crowd surge can occur at festivals, concerts and large events when attendees collectively push forward, leading to large groups of people falling, shoving or being pressured to move past barricades.

The Seoul incident is the country’s worst disaster in years and the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history.

The disaster is also the second in a decade largely affecting young people: In 2014, a ferry that sunk off South Korea’s southern coast led to 304 deaths, largely of high school students. The ferry disaster exposed regulatory failures and led to criticism of lax safety rules.

Earlier this month a riot at a soccer match in Indonesia that caused panic and a chaotic flee for exits led to the deaths of 132 people, most of whom were trampled or suffocated. 

Contributing: Claire Thornton and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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