South Korean authorities said on Monday they did not have any guidelines for dealing with the large crowds gathered in Seoul for Halloween celebrations, as families in the country and around the world mourned the 156 victims of the crowded Saturday night.
The crush took place in the narrow neon-lit alleys of the popular nightlife district of Itaewon, where witnesses said thousands of revellers stood side by side on a street no more than 4 meters (13 feet) wide, unable to move or move. breathe.
Crazy families spent much of Sunday congregating in information centres, where authorities gathered details of the dead and wounded and contacted morgues and hospitals in a desperate search for missing relatives.
Now that all victims have been identified, panic has turned into national grief as the country grapples with one of the worst disasters on record – and parents abroad are doing what they can for their dead children in a foreign land out arrangements.
An official memorial altar was set up in central Seoul on Monday, with photos showing crowds coming to pay their respects. Many were in tears and holding white flowers; others knelt before the altar and bowed deeply.
South Korean President Yoon Se-yeol, his wife Kim Gun-hee, as well as senior officials such as the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Seoul attended the mourning ceremony.
Many shops and businesses were closed to observe a week-long national mourning period.Parts of downtown Seoul are almost empty – a very unusual sight in Seoul usually A bustling capital with a population of around 10 million.
People also paid their respects at a makeshift memorial in Itaewon outside a subway station near the alley where the squeeze occurred. The station entrance is adorned with rows of flowers, along with offerings such as handwritten notes, Korean soju bottles and paper cups filled with drinks.
Among the mourners was a civic group that included families who lost loved ones in the Sewol Ferry disaster, which killed 304 people — mostly teenagers — on school trips when a boat sank in 2014.
“As someone who has suffered the same, my heart is torn and I am speechless,” a member of the group told reporters at the memorial service, adding that seeing “a major disaster like this repeat itself”, Family is sad.
Just down the street, where the entrance to the alley has been blocked, security guards stand guard, and forensic teams in white hazmat suits search the area, still littered with debris and debris.
Amid the grief, questions have been raised about the government’s handling of the incident and the apparent lack of crowd control prior to the tragedy.
One survivor, 22-year-old French exchange student Anne-Lou Chevalier, told CNN she passed out in the crowd after being “overwhelmed” by other revellers. “At some point, I was out of air and we were overwhelmed by other people. So, I just passed out,” Chevalier said.
Several witnesses and survivors said they saw little police in the area until the situation deteriorated.
Earlier on Sunday, the interior and security minister said that only “normal” level security personnel were deployed in Itaewon, as the crowd there did not appear to be large – while a “significant number” of police had been dispatched to another part of Seoul Respond to expected protests.
But — in the face of backlash from South Korean politicians and social media — authorities appeared to reverse course on Monday, saying they had deployed about 137 personnel to Itaewon that night, compared with the previous years before the pandemic. The staff is about 30 to 70 people.
“For this Halloween celebration, since a lot of people are expected to gather in Itaewon, I know it was prepared with more police force than ever before,” said Wu Seung-jin, director of the Violent Crime Investigation Division. National Police Agency.
However, he conceded that “there is currently no separate preparedness manual for this unorganized, expected crowd gathering.” Moreover, police are deployed not for crowd control, but for crime prevention and preventing “all kinds of illegal activities.” “.
Kim Sung-ho, director of the Department of Disaster and Safety Management at the Ministry of Interior and Security, echoed the comments, saying they had no “guidelines or manuals” for this “unprecedented situation.”
The victims were mostly young people who went to Itaewon on Saturday night, eager for South Korea’s first Halloween celebration without coronavirus restrictions in years.
The death toll rose to 156 on Tuesday after a critically injured woman in her 20s died, Seoul police said. In total, 101 women and 55 men were killed.
According to authorities, 12 of the victims were teenagers and more than 100 were in their 20s.
Among them were 26 foreigners from countries including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Another 149 people were injured, 33 of them seriously, including 15 foreigners.
South Korea’s education ministry said six students in Seoul — one junior high and five high school students — and three teachers were among the dead.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official said three South Korean soldiers were among the dead.
Two American college students were identified — Steven Blasey of Georgia and Anne Gisk of Kentucky — both in their junior year.
Blesi’s father, Steve Blesi, said his son “has always been an adventurer”. He said he was an Eagle Scout who loved basketball and wanted to learn multiple languages.
“Maybe half an hour before this tragedy, I texted him on WhatsApp… ‘I know you’re walking around outside. Stay safe. I love you.’ I never got a response,” Steve said. “He had an incredibly bright future, but it’s gone now.”
Annie’s father, Dan Gieske, said in a statement Sunday night that the family was “totally devastated and heartbroken”, calling Annie “a beacon that everyone loves.”
The president of the University of Kentucky said Anne was a nursing student studying abroad in Seoul this semester.
Mei Tomikawa, a 26-year-old Japanese exchange student who died in a crush, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK he was “prepared for the worst” when he couldn’t reach her.
She was studying Korean before she went to school in Seoul, he said before traveling to South Korea from Japan on Monday.
“I tried calling her to warn her to be careful, but she never answered the phone,” he said, according to NHK. “She’s a wonderful daughter…I want to see my daughter soon.”
The family of Australian victim Grace Ratched also released a statement on Monday, describing her as “a talented filmmaker passionate about making a difference”.
“We miss our beautiful angel Grace who brightened the room with her infectious smile. Grace always made others feel important and her kindness left a lasting impression on everyone she met Impression. Grace was always caring and she was loved by all,” the family wrote.
Authorities are now working with foreign embassies and families overseas to support funeral arrangements. More names and faces of the dead are likely to emerge over time as the country searches for answers to such a catastrophe — a planned week of festivities in an area notoriously crowded for Halloween — has unfolded.