South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-Yeol declared a weeklong period of national mourning on early Sunday, hours after at least 153 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, were killed and more than 100 were injured in a crowd surge during Halloween festivities in a nightlife district in Seoul.
Among those who died in Seoul’s Itaewon nightclub district Saturday night are at least 20 foreign nationals, including people from the United States, Norway, Australia, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Iran, South Korea's Ministry of Interior and Safety said, adding that several people remain unidentified, according to Reuters.
While the cause of the crush is not known, reports say tens of thousands of people flooded into the narrow streets of the Itaewon neighborhood for Halloween festivities which created panic among the crowd.
When the crowd surge began in an alley near Hamilton Hotel, some people were bleeding from their noses and mouths and were being given CPR, but the others in their Halloween costumes continued to sing and dance in the area, not knowing the situation, The Associated Press reported, citing witnesses.
A survivor, identified as Lee Chang-kyu, was quoted as saying he saw about six men pushing others before one or two began falling one by one at the start of the surge, NBC News said, citing a report in the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.
The streets were so crowded with people and slow-moving vehicles that emergency workers and ambulances could not reach the alley, the newswire said.
According to the Itaewon Fire Station, at least 21 people were confirmed to have suffered cardiac arrest in the surge, NBC News added.
The bodies were being kept at 42 hospitals in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province.
On Sunday, President Yoon ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff and addressed the nation through a televised speech.
He said the government would support the victims' families as its top priority.
“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon was quoted as saying during the speech. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”
However, South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety, Lee Sang-min, claimed the crowd surge was “not a problem that could have been solved in advance.”
He said a considerable number of police and security forces were deployed to the Gwanhwanmun area, where “various disturbances and demonstrations” had been reported Saturday. In Itaewon, he added, the crowd had not been unusually large, so only a “normal” level of security forces had been deployed.