Halloween crowd crush shows gaps in Korea safety rules, experts say


SEOUL – Two days before tens of thousands of revelers flock to Itaewon’s popular Halloween festival, the surrounding Yongsan district has stepped up security measures for the anticipated festivities. They have taken measures to prevent the coronavirus, clean the streets, check the safety of restaurants and fight against drug use.

District plans failed to prepare for the daily expected crowd of nearly 100,000, or for the suffocating destruction of such crowds in the narrow streets and alleys. But it happened on Saturday, killing more than 150 people and injuring at least 82, in one of the country’s deadliest incidents in recent years.

According to experts, the surveillance highlighted the limitations of the country’s policy on regulating mass gatherings in public places. While formal events such as festivals require detailed safety protocols, the same accident prevention methods are not applied to informal public spaces where large crowds gather, making safety protocols vague with no clear agency in charge, they said.

The exact cause of the overcrowding in the narrow alley – so many people congregated that some were unable to move their limbs – is under investigation. The tragedy has sparked debate over the role of national and local authorities and who should be held accountable.

“Even if there is no organizer of any event, if there will be a large number of people participating in this event, it seems that the relevant institutions should take preliminary measures to strengthen prevention activities based on the potential risk of accidents, safety engineering from Woosuk University in North Jolla province. and Kim Dae Jin, Professor of Disaster Reduction Studies.

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Halloween celebrations in Itaewon, Seoul’s expat-friendly district, have become increasingly popular among expats and young Koreans over the past decade. This year was the first Halloween since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that did not include restrictions on social distancing or wearing masks outside, drawing an even more enthusiastic crowd.

Live coverage of the tragedy in Seoul

It was not clear on Sunday how many people came on Saturday night. South Korea’s Interior and Security Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing Sunday that police did not expect Halloween to be much busier than in previous years and did not deploy additional officers ahead of the holiday.

More than 200 police officers were sent to the area over the weekend – one officer for every 500 people who were there on Saturday night, targeting sexual and physical abuse and drug use.

On Saturday, police forces were focused on monitoring and controlling crowds at large demonstrations in other parts of Seoul, Lee said. A heavy police presence is common at mass protests where violence can erupt.

The Korean National Police Force has jurisdiction in Itaewon. The US military will provide “courtesy patrols” in the area near the US military base, US Forces Korea spokesman Wes Hayes said. U.S. military police responded along with Korean officers, helping with first aid and crowd control, Hayes said.

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Seoul and national police have formed an investigation team to check whether proper security protocols were followed. Yonhap News reported that political leaders of both parties called on the police to quickly determine the cause of the accident, including possible problems with crowd control.

In 2021, South Korea’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security issued a Disaster and Safety Management Guide to help monitor protocols at major events after reviewing past tragedies in Korea and other countries. For example, a 2017 government study found that lack of security measures led to crowds being stomped on or stomped on at more than a dozen concerts, festivals and sporting events. The report proposed tougher requirements for more than 1,000 activities at “multiple facilities”.

Witnesses said that there was a large crowd and a chaotic scene

“Mass gatherings of ordinary citizens may be under the government’s watch because we haven’t had disasters like this before,” said Jung Ho-jo, a disaster management expert and CEO of Seoul-based Safe School. conducts security trainings in all regions of the country.

“If responsibility and authority are ambiguous, chances are no one will do it,” Chon said.

Jong said South Korea’s disaster response should support businesses, community leaders and the media in the region to raise awareness. Additionally, Koreans in their 20s have not received regular safety training on how to behave in dangerous situations, he said.

After the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, which killed more than 300 people, even though current students receive safety training at school, like many of the victims in Itaewon, people in their 20s and 30s fended for themselves.

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Visual Reconstruction: How and Where Tragedy Happened

The first night of Halloween on Friday saw a horrifying scene of disaster the following night. Video footage from the alley on Friday night showed a crowd, though not as large as Saturday. According to witnesses, some people, realizing that the area was crowded on Saturday night, left early.

Many people tried to avoid the crowds in the alley and tried to enter the clubs or other businesses along the street. According to eyewitnesses in South Korean media, some denied them.

What is causing the death toll in Seoul to increase?

According to reports, the alley on the hill was filled with people on Saturday evening, but it is not known how long it took. It was so crowded that a cascade formed when people on the hill fell. According to witnesses interviewed by South Korean media, many people were shouting, “Stop pushing, stop pushing” towards the bottom of the hill.

“Accidents are not caused by a single cause, but should be divided into political causes, administrative causes, indirect causes and direct causes,” said Chong. “If the part had worked properly, this would not have caused the accident.”

Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo; Grace Moon, Kelly Kasulis Cho and Julie Yoon in Seoul; and Samuel Oakford in New York contributed to this report.


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