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Shaken and grieving, expat communities seek ways to help victims

Oct. 31, 2022 - 18:13 By Choi Jae-hee
Buddhist monks chant a prayer near the site of a stampede in Seoul's Itaewon district on Monday that left at least 154, including 26 foreigners, killed during Halloween festivities two days ago. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

The news of a horrific crowd crush in Seoul’s foreigner-friendly neighborhood of Itaewon has left foreign communities here in shock and grief.

Many interviewed by The Korea Herald spoke of receiving calls from worried families and friends back home, while others said they were trying to be of any help to the victims who were killed or injured in this foreign land.

“My family members were all shocked when they first heard about the incident. I called them and said I’m doing okay and my friends are also safe,” said Nuhyil Ahammed, a 32-year-old Indian office worker residing in Itaewon. Ahammed saidi he was in the narrow alleyway where the fatal crush occurred, but he managed to escape.

One American student at an international school in Seoul, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of psychological trauma after witnessing the scene of chaos in Itaewon on Saturday night.

"I saw dead bodies on the streets, blood flowing from their noses and mouths. It really affects me. I can't sleep at night because whenever I close my eyes, I keep thinking about the victims' faces."

30-year-old David Becerra from Colombia, who used to work as a Spanish instructor in the area around Itaewon Station, said there should have been better crowd management measures.

"Every year, more and more people come here. Sometimes, it's difficult to walk around the alleys,” Becerra said.

“This place is a neighborhood. It wasn't made to receive many people. There should be more police control of popular tourist spots like Itaewon to prevent another crowd (crush).”

Some tourists, who had visited the neighborhood to enjoy Seoul's bustling nightlife, were shocked by how dangerous the hip alleys of Itaewon could be, which are one of the popular travel destinations for foreign visitors.

Afifah Nana, a 25-year-old Malaysian tourist, arrived in Korea two weeks ago and went to the Itaewon district just a day before the deadly incident took place. She said she could have been one of those 26 foreign victims.

"It was the second time I have visited Itaewon. Itaewon has been always crowded with people, especially foreign residents and tourists like me, long before the incident. I think many people, including me, were not aware that a massive crowd could lead to stampedes and crushes," she said.

Some members of an online expat community are seeking ways to help the bereaved families of foreign victims.

One user uploaded a post on a Facebook community dubbed “Foreigners in South Korea,” looking for people who could place pictures and flowers of Steven Blesi at a makeshift memorial altar for victims set up outside an exit of Itaewon subway station.

Blesi, a 20-year-old American college student who had been studying abroad in South Korea, was among the 26 foreigners killed in the incident.

The foreign victims include five from Iran, four each from China and Russia, two from the United States, two from Japan, and one each from France, Australia, Norway, Austria, Vietnam, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka, according to officials at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.