South Korean authorities say they had no guidelines for Halloween crowds, as families grieve 155 victims | CNN

Seoul, South Korea

South Korean authorities said Monday they had no guidelines for handling the huge crowds that gathered for Halloween celebrations in Seoul, as families across the country and around the world mourned 155 people. Victims of the Saturday night rush.

The crush took place in the narrow neon-lit alleys of the popular nightlife district of Itaewon, where witnesses described thousands of people shoulder-to-shoulder unable to breathe on streets no more than 4 meters (13 feet) wide. .

Spent by frantic families Most of Sunday gathering at information centers where officials collected details of the dead and injured and contacted mortuaries and hospitals to trace missing relatives.

Now that all the victims have been identified, the terror has turned into national mourning as the country faces one of its worst disasters ever – while overseas parents make arrangements for their dead children in a foreign land.

Official memorial altars were set up in central Seoul on Monday, with photographs showing crowds arriving to pay their respects. Many held white flowers in tears; Others knelt and bowed to the altar.

Mourners were joined by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, his wife Kim Keon-hee, and senior officials including the prime minister and the mayor of Seoul.

Many shops and businesses were closed to observe the week-long national mourning. Parts of central Seoul were almost deserted – a very unusual sight Usually A crowded capital with a residence of about 10 million people.

People paid their respects at a makeshift memorial in Itaewon outside a subway station near the street where the crush happened. The entrance to the station is decorated with rows of flowers and offerings such as handwritten notes, bottles of Korean liquor soju and paper cups filled with drinks.

Among the mourners was a civilian group of bereaved families from the Sewol ferry disaster, which killed 304 people – mostly teenagers – when the ship sank in 2014.

“For someone who suffered the same pain, my heart is torn and I am speechless,” one of the group’s members told reporters at the memorial, adding, “The families are saddened to see a repeat of such a great disaster.”

Just down the street, the entrance to the alley was cordoned off, with security personnel standing by as forensic teams dressed in white protective suits searched the area littered with trash and debris.

Amidst the tragedy, questions have been raised about the government’s handling of the incident and the lack of crowd control before the tragedy.

One survivor, 22-year-old French exchange student Anne-Lou Chevalier, told CNN she ran into the crowd after being “crushed” by fellow revelers. “At some point I didn’t want to, and we were so crushed in front of other people that I couldn’t breathe. So, I just got out,” Chevalier said.

Several eyewitnesses and survivors said they saw few or no police officers in the area before the situation worsened.

Earlier on Sunday, the Interior and Security Minister said only a “normal” level of security personnel had been deployed in Itaewon because the crowd there did not appear to be unusually large – while a “large number” of police had been sent to another area. Seoul in response to the expected protests.

Mourners pay tribute to the victims of the deadly Halloween stampede in Seoul on October 31, 2022.

But — facing a backlash from Korean politicians and on social media — officials appeared to change course on Monday, saying they had deployed about 137 personnel to Itaewon that night, up from about 30 to 70 in previous years before the pandemic.

“For the Halloween festival this time, it was expected that many people would gather in Itaewon, I understand that it was prepared with more police force than other years,” said Oh Seung-jin, director of the Violent Crime Investigation Department. National Police Agency.

However, he admitted, “There is currently no separate preparedness manual for situations where there are no organizers and crowds are expected.” Moreover, the police were deployed not for crowd control – but to prevent crime and “various illegal activities”.

Kim Seong-ho, director of the Disaster and Security Management Department at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Security, echoed the comments, saying they had no “guidelines or manuals” for such “unprecedented situations.”

The victims were mostly young people who had traveled to Itaewon on Saturday night, eager for South Korea’s first Halloween celebration without Covid restrictions.

Of the 155 dead, 12 were teenagers and 103 were in their 20s, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Security said in its situation report on Monday, adding that 55 men and 99 women were killed.

Their number included 26 foreign nationals from America, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Another 149 people were injured, 33 seriously, including 15 foreign nationals.

Six students attending schools in Seoul – one middle school and five high schools – were among the dead, as well as three teachers, the Korean Ministry of Education said.

Three South Korean military personnel were also among the dead, a Korean Defense Ministry official said.

Steven Blasey, 20, a college student from Marietta, Georgia.

Two American college students were recognized — Steven Blasey from Georgia and Anne Geiske from Kentucky — both in their junior year.

Blasey’s father, Steve Blasey, said his son was “always adventurous.” He was an Eagle Scout, loved basketball and wanted to learn several languages, he said.

“Maybe half an hour before the tragedy happened, I texted him on WhatsApp … ‘I know you’re out. stay safe I love you.’ And I never got a response,” Steve said. “He had an incredibly bright future that is now gone.”

Ann’s father, Dan Giske, said in a statement Sunday evening that the family was “completely devastated and heartbroken,” calling Ann “a bright light loved by all.”

Annie was a nursing student studying abroad in Seoul this semester, said the president of the University of Kentucky.

Ann Giske, a University of Kentucky student who died in a crowd crush in Seoul.

The father of Mei Tomikawa, a 26-year-old Japanese exchange student who died, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that he was “prepared for the worst” when he was unable to reach her.

She was studying Korean before starting school in Seoul, he said, speaking before flying to South Korea from Japan on Monday.

“I tried to call her to warn her to be careful, but she never answered her phone,” he said, according to NHK. “She was a good girl … I want to see my daughter as soon as possible.”

Australian woman Grace Rasheed dies after being crushed by a mob in Seoul, South Korea.

The family of the Australian victim, Grace Ratched, released a statement on Monday, describing her as “a talented filmmaker who was passionate about making a difference.”

“We are losing our beautiful angel Grace who lit up a room with her infectious smile. Grace always cared about others and her kindness left an impression on everyone she met. Grace always cared for others and was loved by all,” the family wrote.

Officials are now working with foreign embassies and families abroad, providing support including funeral arrangements. As the week progresses, more names and faces of those who died are likely to emerge, as the nation searches for answers to how such a disaster – in a crowded area on Halloween, with weeks of festivities planned – happened. are unfolded.

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