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[From the scene] Somber atmosphere in Itaewon in aftermath of crowd surge disaster

Oct. 30, 2022 - 06:25 By Shin Ji-hye By Jung Min-kyung By Choi Jae-hee

The area around Itaewon in Yongsan-gu, central Seoul, full of excited Halloween partygoers on Saturday night, turned into a catastrophic scene in an instant.

At least 153 people died and dozens were injured in a crowd crush that took place in a narrow alley near the neighborhood’s famous Hamilton Hotel.

Paramedics prepare to put an injured patient on a stretcher in Itaewon, Yongsan-gu, central Seoul, at around 3:00 a.m. on Sunday. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

The celebratory scene quickly turned into a nightmare as screams and cries for help erupted from the crowd, and the sounds of ambulance sirens mixed with thumping music that continued to flow out of the neighborhood’s many bars and clubs.

Firefighters and police joined passersby in administering CPR to unconscious people laying in the streets -- many dressed in Halloween costumes -- massaging their limbs and trying their best to revive them. But it was mostly in vain.

Hours later, Marwan, a 24-year-old Moroccan who has lived in South Korea for six years, was walking around the neighborhood still trying to process what had happened. “Three of my friends died today. I used to hang out with them every weekend in Itaewon and now they're dead. There were no bodyguards or owners trying to stop the situation.”

Paramedics transport an injured patient in Itaewon, Yongsan-gu, central Seoul at around 3:00 a.m. on Sunday. (Sanjay Kumar/The Korea Herald)

“I wasn’t at the site of the accident, but I later saw people being carried away (in stretchers) and it was so heartbreaking,” said Lee Hyun-se, 23, dressed as the Joker.

Ahammed Nuhyil, 32, an office worker in Itaewon recalled the accident.

"It was all of a sudden. When people started pushing from back and front -- it’s like we were stuck in tsunami waves. There was nothing we could do. I heard people screaming and some people looked like they are about to collapse.”

He was in the middle of the crush scene and was pushed by the crowd, but managed to climb up a restaurant railing to escape.

A Hamilton Hotel security guard said he went out right away because of a loud noise and was surprised to see the crowd in the alley. “In an instant, people fell as they leaned forward. It seems there were more people than at the Halloween party before the pandemic.”

A foreign woman from Ivory Coast, who has been living in Seoul's Itaewon district for more than 10 years, with his 22-year-old son gone missing after the deadly stampede overnight, talks with reporters on the third floor of Hannam-dong Community Service Center in Yongsan District, central Seoul, at around 1 p.m. Sunday, after reporting her son as missing person. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

From the early morning, the Hannam-dong Community Center, which was receiving missing persons from the large-scale crush in Itaewon, was busy. The community center's first floor received constant reports of missing people on 20 phones from callers who said they were a missing person's mother, father, acquaintance or friend.

A mother whose first name is Roman, with a son from Ivory Coast, said, “I lost contact with my 22-year-old son Aby Masela last night. He is not on the list of deaths. He is missing, but his identity has not been confirmed. I have been in Korea for 18 years. I live with my son.”

An accident area is restricted by police in Itaewon, central Seoul on Sunday. (Choi Jae-hee/The Korea Herald)

There were 3,580 cases of missing people as of 2 p.m. on Sunday, according to the center.