Seoul, South Korea
South Korean authorities stated Monday that they had no tips to deal with the massive crowds that gathered for Halloween festivities in Seoul, as households within the nation and around the globe mourn the 154 victims of Saturday evening’s crowd crush.
The crush came about within the slim neon-lit alleyways of the favored nightlife district Itaewon, the place witnesses described being unable to maneuver or breathe as hundreds of revelers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a road not more than 4 meters (13 ft) extensive.
Frantic households spent a lot of Sunday gathering at data facilities the place authorities compiled particulars of the lifeless and wounded, and contacting morgues and hospitals in a determined try to find lacking family.
With the entire victims now recognized, the panic has reworked to nationwide grief because the nation grapples with considered one of its worst-ever disasters – whereas dad and mom abroad make preparations for his or her deceased kids in a international land.
Official memorial altars had been arrange in central Seoul Monday, with pictures displaying crowds visiting to pay their respects. Many had been in tears and holding white flowers; others knelt and bowed deeply to the altar.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, his spouse, Kim Keon-hee, and prime officers together with the prime minister and Seoul mayor joined the mourners.
Many outlets and companies had been closed to watch a week-long nationwide interval of mourning. Components of central Seoul had been practically abandoned – a extremely uncommon sight within the normally bustling capital that’s residence to about 10 million individuals.
Individuals additionally paid respects at a makeshift memorial in Itaewon, exterior a subway station close to the alley the place the crush occurred. The station entrance is adorned with rows of flowers, and choices akin to handwritten notes, bottles of the Korean liquor soju and paper cups full of drinks.
Among the many mourners was a civic group of the bereaved households of the Sewol Ferry catastrophe, which killed 304 individuals – largely teenagers on a college journey – when the vessel sank in 2014.
“As one who had suffered the identical ache, my coronary heart is torn and I’m rendered speechless,” one of many group’s members instructed reporters on the memorial, saying the households had been saddened to see “a significant catastrophe like this repeated.”
Simply down the road, the doorway to the alley had been cordoned off, with safety personnel standing guard as forensic groups clad in white protecting fits scoured the world, nonetheless suffering from trash and particles.
Amid the grief, questions have emerged in regards to the authorities’s dealing with of the incident and an obvious lack of crowd management earlier than the tragedy.
One survivor, 22-year-old French change pupil Anne-Lou Chevalier, instructed CNN she handed out within the crowd after being “crushed” by fellow revelers. “In some unspecified time in the future I had no air, and we had been so crushed to different people who I couldn’t breathe in any respect. So, I simply handed out,” Chevalier stated.
A number of eyewitnesses and survivors stated that they had seen few or no law enforcement officials within the space earlier than the scenario deteriorated.
Earlier on Sunday, the minister of the inside and security stated solely a “regular” stage of safety personnel had been deployed to Itaewon as a result of the group there didn’t appear unusually massive – whereas a “appreciable quantity” of police had been despatched to a different a part of Seoul in response to anticipated protests.
However – going through a backlash from Korean politicians and on social media – authorities appeared to alter tack on Monday, saying that they had deployed about 137 personnel to Itaewon that evening, in comparison with about 30 to 70 personnel in earlier years earlier than the pandemic.
“For this time’s Halloween pageant, as a result of it was anticipated that many individuals would collect in Itaewon, I perceive that it was ready by placing in additional police drive than different years,” stated Oh Seung-jin, director of the violent crime investigation division on the Nationwide Police Company.
Nonetheless, he admitted, “at present there isn’t any separate preparation guide for such a scenario the place there isn’t any organizer and a gathering of a crowd is anticipated.” Furthermore, the police had been deployed not for crowd management – however for crime prevention and to forestall “numerous unlawful actions.”
Kim Seong-ho, director of the catastrophe and security administration division on the Ministry of the Inside and Security, echoed these feedback, saying they didn’t have “tips or a guide” for such an “unprecedented scenario.”
The victims had been largely younger individuals who had gone to Itaewon Saturday evening, anticipating South Korea’s first Halloween celebrations in years with out Covid restrictions.
Of the 154 lifeless, 12 had been youngsters and 102 had been of their 20s, the Ministry of Inside and Security stated in its scenario report Monday, with 55 males and 99 girls killed.
Amongst their quantity had been 26 international nationals from nations together with the US, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
An extra 149 individuals had been injured, 33 severely, together with 15 international nationals.
Six college students who attended colleges in Seoul – one center schooler and 5 excessive schoolers – had been among the many lifeless, in addition to three lecturers, stated the Korean Ministry of Training.
Three South Korean army personnel had been additionally amongst these killed, stated a Korean Protection Ministry official.
Two American faculty college students had been recognized – Steven Blesi from Georgia, and Anne Gieske from Kentucky – each of their junior yr.
Blesi’s father, Steve Blesi, stated his son had “all the time been an adventurer.” He was an Eagle Scout, appreciated basketball and needed to study a number of languages, he stated.
“Possibly in a half hour earlier than this tragedy occasion came about, I texted him in WhatsApp … ‘I do know you’re out and about. Keep secure. I really like you.’ And I by no means received a response again,” Steve stated. “He had an extremely vibrant future that’s now gone.”
Dan Gieske, Anne’s father, stated in an announcement Sunday night that the household was “utterly devastated and heartbroken,” calling Anne “a vibrant mild liked by all.”
Anne had been a nursing pupil finding out overseas in Seoul this semester, stated the president of the College of Kentucky.
The daddy of Mei Tomikawa, a 26-year-old Japanese change pupil who was killed within the crush, instructed Japanese public broadcaster NHK he was “ready for the worst” when he couldn’t attain her.
She was finding out Korean earlier than beginning faculty in Seoul, he stated, talking earlier than touring from Japan to South Korea on Monday.
“I attempted calling her to warn her to watch out, however she by no means answered her telephone,” he stated, in line with NHK. “She was an amazing daughter … I wish to see my daughter as quickly as doable.”
The household of an Australian sufferer, Grace Rached, additionally launched an announcement on Monday describing her as “a proficient movie producer who was enthusiastic about making a distinction.”
“We’re lacking our beautiful angel Grace who lit up a room along with her infectious smile. Grace all the time made others really feel essential and her kindness left an impression on everybody she ever met. Grace all the time cared about others and he or she was liked by all,” the household wrote.
Authorities at the moment are working with international embassies and households abroad, providing help with funeral preparations. Because the week goes on, extra names and faces of those that died are more likely to emerge, because the nation searches for solutions as to how such a catastrophe – in an space identified to be crowded on Halloween, with festivities weeks within the planning – may have unfolded.