South Korea Halloween crush: The tragedy was avoidable, experts say

Celebrations turned into chaos as at least 151 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in South Korea when a gathering of primarily young people celebrating Halloween festivities in Seoul became trapped and crushed. 

But safety experts said on Monday (October 31) that proper crowd and traffic control by South Korean authorities could have prevented or at least mitigated the surge of Halloween partygoers in the lanes that resulted in a crush and the deaths of 154 people. 

The annual celebrations in Seoul’s popular nightlife district of Itaewon lacked a central organising body, thus the government was not compelled to set or enforce safety regulations. 

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According to a district news release, officials in Yongsan, where Itaewon is situated, talked about ways to stop people from using illegal drugs and spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) over the Halloween holiday. However, there was no reference to crowd management. 

About 100,000 people were believed to be in Itaewon on Saturday when the incident took place. Itaewon subway station saw 81,573 passengers disembark on that day, up from approximately 23,800 a week earlier and about 35,950 on Friday, according to Seoul Metro. But there were only 137 police officers in Itaewon at the time. 

On the other hand, up to 4,000 police officers were stationed for protests by labour unions and supporters of President Yoon Suk-yeol that drew tens of thousands to Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on the same Saturday, according to a police official. 

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Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min said on Monday, “Police are now working on a thorough analysis of the incident’s cause. It’s not appropriate to make hasty conclusions before the exact cause is determined – whether it was caused by a lack of police or whether there is something that we should fundamentally change for rallies and gatherings.” 

Oh Seung-jin, the director of the violent crime investigation division at the National Police Agency, said: “For this time’s Halloween festival, because it was expected that many people would gather in Itaewon, I understand that it was prepared by putting in more police force than other years.” 

But the oficer further admitted that “currently there is no separate preparation manual for such a situation where there is no organiser and a gathering of a crowd is expected.” 


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