‘There were 40 bodies all around me’: South Korean stampede survivor describes horrific scenes as authorities are blamed for crush that killed 154 on first Covid-restriction-free Halloween

  • Authorities have been blamed for poor crowd control after 154 were killed
  • Up to 100,000 people partied without masks or group limits on Seoul streets
  • Survivors have described the horror of seeing bodies scattered around them 

A survivor of the stampede that killed 154 Halloween revellers in Seoul has recalled the horror of seeing 40 bodies scattered around her after escaping the crush.

Authorities are facing blame for poor crowd control after 100,000 people – mostly in their teens and 20s and wearing Halloween costumes to celebrate the first night out without Covid restrictions in three years  – poured into Itaewon’s streets.

Police said at a briefing today they had deployed 137 officers to the event, significantly more than previous years, but witnesses said they were focused on drug use rather than crowd control in the small, winding streets.

Mink and Federica, students from the Netherlands and Italy, joined the celebrations on Saturday night at the moment partygoers were collapsed on the floor receiving CPR.

Mink told the BBC: ‘At the end of the alley there were 30, 40 bodies around me.

‘Everybody had been having fun, smiling, looking crazy, looking great. It just wasn’t something you could imagine would happen.’

Police officers examine the scene two days after a deadly stampede occurred in the Itaewon district of Seoul

Mourners pay tribute in front of a joint memorial altar for victims of the deadly Halloween crowd surge

Today, mourners have flocked to memorials honouring the 154 dead, and were seen weeping, praying and placing flowers at the official altar

Authorities are facing blame for poor crowd control after 100,000 people poured into Itaewon’s streets

Federica added: ‘Seoul is famous for policemen being everywhere, and you always feel safe. It could have been better managed.’

Today, mourners have flocked to memorials honouring the 154 dead, and were seen weeping, praying and placing flowers at the official altar set up for the victims who were mostly young women. 

‘I am devastated by what happened, they were just trying to have a good time,’ 19-year-old student Hwang Gyu-hyeon told AFP, weeping and struggling to speak clearly, as she explained how the deaths of so many people her own age had affected her.

‘I pray for the victims. I can’t believe this accident happened despite the signs that were clear beforehand. Nothing was done to prepare for this crowd,’ she said.

Song Jung-hee, 69, said she kept thinking about how ‘excited and spirited’ the young victims must have been, eager to enjoy a night out without Covid restrictions for the first time in three years.

Revellers were able to party without enforced mask wearing or group limits. 

Police said at a briefing today they had deployed 137 officers to the event, significantly more than previous years

The victims were mostly in their teens and 20s and wearing Halloween costumes to celebrate the first night out without Covid restrictions in three years

A Buddhist nun prays in tribute to those who were killed, at a makeshift memorial outside a subway station

Officers guard the site of the deadly stampede in Itaewon, Seoul, as he country’s President, Yoon Suk-Yeol vowed a thorough investigation into what is one of the country’s worst-ever disasters

‘If only there had been more police officers to keep order, this would not have happened,’ she told AFP.

At a makeshift memorial outside a subway station in the popular Itaewon nightlife district, where the tragedy occurred, dozens of mourners gathered, many wiping away tears as they placed white chrysanthemum and bottles of soju on the altar.

One sign left at the memorial said: ‘At an age when you all were all about to blossom like flowers… My heart is broken. I pray all the souls will rest in peace in heaven.’

Calls for accountability were growing Monday in the press and online, as potential lapses of crowd control and policing emerged.

‘This was a disaster that could have been controlled or prevented,’ Lee Young-ju, a professor from the Department of Fire and Disaster at the University of Seoul, told broadcaster YTN.

Investigators inspect the scene of a stampede that happened during Halloween festivities in Seoul

Calls for accountability were growing Monday in the press and online, as potential lapses of crowd control and policing emerged


Left: The alleyway is seen early on Sunday morning. It remained cordoned off as police continued their investigations into the tragedy. Right: The same alleyway is seen shortly before the crush. Hundreds of people are shown packed in

Emergency workers urgently tried to extricate those most in need of medical assistance from the crowd

‘But this was not taken care of, with no one taking the responsibility in the first place.’

Online, claims also spread that police this year were not actively managing the crowd, which allowed too many people to congregate around the subway station and in the alleyway at the epicentre of the disaster.

‘I’ve lived in Itaewon for 10 years and experienced Halloween every year but yesterday was by no means particularly crowded compared to previous years,’ Twitter user @isakchoi312 wrote.

‘Ultimately, I think the cause of the disaster was crowd control.’

On Sunday, the government had defended the policing plan.

‘(The crush) was not a problem that could be solved by deploying police or firefighters in advance,’ Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing.

South Korea is typically strong on crowd control, with the country’s regular protest rallies often so heavily policed that officers can outnumber participants.

Revelers dressed in Halloween costumes are seen leaving the scene after a crush killed at least 154 people in Seoul 

Korea’s Prime Minister Han Duck-soo (centre) inspects the scene of the deadly Halloween stampede

Protest organisers must by law report plans to authorities in advance, but there were no such requirements for the young people flocking to the Itaewon Halloween event.

Tens of thousands of partygoers were packed into the downhill alleyway, no more than 10 feet wide, with eye-witnesses describing scenes of chaos, as people pushed and shoved to get through, with no police in sight to guide or control the crowd.

Witnesses described being trapped in a narrow, sloping alleyway, and scrambling to get out of the suffocating crowd as people piled on top of one another.

Most of the 154 dead, including 26 foreigners, had been identified Sunday, with the education ministry confirming Monday that at least six young teenagers were among the victims.

But the toll could rise further with at least 33 people in critical condition, officials said.

The country started a week of national mourning, with entertainment events and concerts cancelled and flags nationwide flying at half-mast.

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