Published: 31st October 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Halloween crowd crush in Seoul, Korea. What happened and why?
Itaewon district of Seoul witnessed the death of around 150 in a horrific Halloween celebrations' which ended in a crowd crush
Itaewon — the party district of Seoul, famous for its vibrant nightlife and foreigner footfall, had to bear witness to one of the most horrific peacetime calamities of South Korea since the Sewol ferry sank off in 2014. Around 150 died in the Halloween crowd crush in the narrow alleyway of Itaewon on October 29. Like the ferry tragedy, the majority of the victims were young; gathered for the famous Halloween celebrations of Itaewon. This was the first major Halloween celebration in Korea since the pandemic as most of the COVID-19 restrictions were removed. As per reports, among the dead are 19 foreigners and also K-celebrity Lee Jihan who was an actor and an ex-cheerleader.
The famous Halloween celebrations of Itaewon quickly turned into a sombre parade of dead bodies as the crowd surged in its narrow alleys crushing 151 dead and around 100 injured. Horrific videos of wailing crowds of young people trapped in a tight space glued on top of each other and CPR attempts on lifeless bodies on the pavement went viral on social media. Reports state the crowd crush took place in a narrow sloppy lane near Hamilton Hotel, as around a hundred thousand people flocked to Itaewon on October 29 to join the revelry. Although a large number of emergency service men and policemen were deployed in the area to cater to the victims; the ambulances found it difficult to cut through the crowd.
President Yoon Suk-Yeol of South Korea declared a time of national mourning on Sunday, October 30, announcing that the government will cover the costs of the injured people's medical care and the deceased people's funerals. Mourning in South Korea will be observed till November 5.
What is crowd crush?
Although confused with a stampede, crowd crush occurs when a place gets extremely overcrowded with four or five persons per square metre. This can cause the crowd to collapse in on itself or become so tightly packed that people can be crushed and asphyxiated due to the pressure on each individual. With no space for an individual to move, the crowd moves as one whole, like a fluid force. It is forced to move in the direction of the pressure flow and that can eventually lead to a choke point. In Itaewon on October 29, not only did the crowd reach a choke point but the sloppy lane caused the crowd to fall on each other. The fluid-like crowd caused people to crush and die from compressive asphyxiation.
Why was there a huge crowd in Itaewon in the first place?
Halloween is not a traditional South Korean holiday, however, owing to the nation’s cosmopolitan and international nature in recent years; the festival has garnered popularity. In South Korea, Itaewon has become the centre of celebration because of its vibrant nightlife and multicultural nature. Additionally, since the pandemic restrictions were very high in Korea, 2022 was the first Halloween event since most of the restrictions were gone. This further led to a surge in the crowd.
Few reports state that the cause for the dreadful crowd crush was because of raucous and quite a few took to Twitter to protest against the victim blaming. Dr Jean Hong (@jeanyeonghong), Associate Professor at Michigan University writes:
For #SouthKorea, an unusually homogeneous, hierarchical, xenophobic, and homophobic society, #Itaewon has served as a place to breathe for so many minorities. Perhaps the only place in Seoul. It’s simply UNACCEPTABLE to see ANY blaming on victims or the place. #ItaewonTragedy
Other crowd crushes in recent history
1) Lima, Peru - August 22, 2020 - Los Olivos' stampede - 13 people were crushed to death due to a police raid on an unauthorised gathering at a nightclub during the COVID-19 pandemic
2) Meron, Israel - April 30. 2021 - 45 dead during a religious celebration
3) Houston, Texas, United States - November 5, 2021 - Astroworld Festival crowd crush - 10 people died at rapper Travis Scott's performance at a music festival
4) Malang, East Java, Indonesia - October 1, 2022 - Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster - 133 died