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Emergency workers move the body of a victim of a Halloween stampede in Seoul on Oct. 30.ALBERT RETIEF/AFP/Getty Images

South Koreans are demanding answers after more than 150 people were crushed to death in a stampede during Halloween festivities in Seoul, one of the country’s worst peacetime disasters.

An official mourning period began Sunday, as authorities were still trying to identify all of the dead, working in a makeshift morgue set up at the scene. At least 22 of those killed were foreigners from around a dozen countries, while others were teenagers still too young to carry ID cards.

Among the dozens of injured was at least one Canadian, Ottawa said.

Addressing the country Sunday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said it was “a tragedy and disaster that should not have happened.”

“My heart is heavy and it is difficult to contain my sorrow,” he added, promising that the government will “thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.”

The disaster began late Saturday night, as tens of thousands of costumed revellers packed the windy, narrow alleys of Seoul’s Itaewon neighbourhood. Loud music pumped from bars as people danced and socialized on the street.

Crowd control was limited, and what police were on the scene seemed to struggle to manage the huge throngs of people. South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety, Lee Sang-min, told a briefing that the authorities had not expected Halloween crowds to be larger than previous years, despite the recent lifting of most COVID measures, and were busy policing protests in other parts of the capital.

By 10 p.m., many of the streets around the Hamilton Hotel in central Itaewon had reached a virtual standstill, and people could be heard yelling in frustration over the thumping music as they tried to get through.

Halloween revelers react after the stampede, which killed more than 150 people.ALBERT RETIEF/AFP/Getty Images

Just what started the deadly stampede remains unclear, but some witnesses reported seeing a group of young men trying to push their way forcefully into a steep alley. A person fell, and then another, and panic quickly spread through the crowd. People screamed for help but were drowned out by other shouts and the music from nearby bars.

Survivors described people falling “like dominoes,” some borne down by unwieldy Halloween costumes. The crush of the alley was such that even after it became clear something terrible was occurring, many struggled to get out, and paramedics had to fight their way in, desperately performing CPR amid piles of people.

The majority of the dead, 97 of 153, were young women. One female survivor, surnamed Park, told the Yonhap news agency “a short person like me could not even breathe,” the pressure of the crowd was so great.

“I could survive as I was located on the side of the alley,” Ms. Park said. “It looks like people in the middle suffered the most.”

Witness Kim Mi-sung said she performed CPR on 10 people who were unconscious, mostly women wearing witch outfits and other Halloween costumes. Nine of them were declared dead on the spot.

Over 150 killed in Seoul

Halloween stampede

The stampede occurred as thousands of people celebrated Halloween night in the popular Itaewon nightlife district. Most victims were teenagers and people in their 20s who crowded into a narrow alley with a slope, facilitating numerous falls. At least 151 deaths were confirmed with 82 people injured, 19 of them seriously.

CHINA

N. KOREA

Seoul

S. KOREA

0

250

JAPAN

KM

0

15

ITAEWON DISTRICT

m

ITAEWON-RO

Hamilton

Hotel

A vast crowd surged into a narrow alley beside the

Hamilton hotel

ITAEWON-RO 27 GA-GIL

Crowding streets

SOURCE: REUTERS

Over 150 killed in Seoul Halloween stampede

The stampede occurred as thousands of people celebrated Halloween night in the popular Itaewon nightlife district. Most victims were teenagers and people in their 20s who crowded into a narrow alley with a slope, facilitating numerous falls. At least 151 deaths were confirmed with 82 people injured, 19 of them seriously.

0

250

CHINA

KM

N. KOREA

Seoul

S. KOREA

JAPAN

0

15

m

ITAEWON DISTRICT

ITAEWON-RO

Hamilton Hotel

A vast crowd surged into a narrow alley beside the Hamilton hotel

ITAEWON-RO 27 GA-GIL

Crowding streets

SOURCE: REUTERS

Over 150 killed in Seoul Halloween stampede

The stampede occurred as thousands of people celebrated Halloween night in the popular Itaewon nightlife district. Most victims were teenagers and people in their 20s who crowded into a narrow alley with a slope, facilitating numerous falls. At least 151 deaths were confirmed with 82 people injured, 19 of them seriously.

0

15

ITAEWON DISTRICT

m

Itaewon Station

ITAEWON-RO

Hamilton Hotel

Crowding streets

A vast crowd surged into a narrow alley beside the

Hamilton hotel

ITAEWON-RO 27 GA-GIL

CHINA

N. KOREA

Seoul

S. KOREA

0

250

JAPAN

KM

SOURCE: REUTERS

“I still can’t believe what has happened,” Ms. Kim told the Associated Press. “It was like hell.”

For hours after the incident, bodies lay in the street, their faces covered, as paramedics struggled to catalogue and identify victims. By Sunday morning, the alley where the stampede occurred had become both a crime scene and a memorial, as people brought flowers and offerings for the dead.

Those killed in Saturday night’s disaster included people from China, Iran, Russia, the United States, Australia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Austria, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Norway, authorities said.

Leaders from around the world offered condolences, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying he was “thinking of everyone affected by this tragedy, and wishing a fast and full recovery to those who were injured.”

People pay tribute near the scene of the stampede.KIM HONG-JI/Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden said they grieved “with the people of the Republic of Korea,” while Chinese leader Xi Jinping also expressed “deep condolences.”

Addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis said “we also pray … for those, especially young people, who died overnight in Seoul due to the tragic consequences of a sudden stampede.”

For many South Koreans, Saturday’s disaster brought to mind the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry, which left almost 300 people dead. Then too, many of those killed were teenagers, and questions were raised over safety regulations and the government’s response.

In a statement, the 4.16 Foundation, set up by family members of those killed in the Sewol disaster, echoed calls for an investigation into the Halloween crush.

The group urged people not to blame those “who just wanted to enjoy the festival,” adding that the “responsibility to prevent and prepare for a potential accident” lay with the authorities.

“We pray that the severe wounds to mind and body that must have been engraved on all those who had to face the terrible horror at the scene will be healed as soon as possible,” it added.

With reports from Reuters and the Associated Press