Witnesses to Seoul crowd crush recount Halloween horror night


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SEOUL — It seemed the apocalypse had struck, one witness said — an evening of panic and dismay that would have looked like a scene from a horror movie on any other Halloween.

The bodies of several lifeless people were laid on the ground in the Itaewon neighborhood on Saturday night, their shirts pulled over their faces after rescuers checked for acute injuries, videos reviewed exclusively by The Washington Post showed.

Bodies lay on the ground near the Atelier club, a short walk from the narrow alley where a crowd crush left more than 150 dead. People frantically performed CPR in the area, with police moving in and out of the scene.

A man had a red football shirt pulled over his face as he was being treated with a defibrillator. A woman’s body was covered in blood on the ground beside her. Several were lying in the street, their mouths open, looking dead.

How and where the Seoul crash happened

Joshua and Angela Smith, siblings from Florida who booked a room at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon to experience a Korean Halloween, watched the disaster unfold in the driveway from a ninth-story window.

Joshua saw three stretchers emerge from the hotel for the first time that evening as rescuers used a hand pump to provide oxygen. A fourth stretcher carried a body in a bag, and Angela heard screams coming from all over the alley.

“It was awful, awful to see,” Joshua said.

They watched from above as people rush to save others on the ground, they said. Eventually, at least seven bodies were visible, with police searching their clothes for identification before bagging or covering them.

“Once we saw them do that, that’s when the music, the lights finally went out,” Joshua said. “That’s when he turned black.”

Sophia Akhiyat, a 31-year-old doctor from Florida, was led down the aisle by a concerned police officer sometime after 11 p.m. to help those who had been injured. She saw people marking the dead with makeup, she said, recalling a “heap of humans” at the mouth of the narrow street blocking ambulances from entering the area.

“These people, I think most of them were close to death or dead by the time we were helping them,” she said.

“It was almost post-apocalyptic. It was almost all civilians, no medical personnel, trying to save these people,” said her friend Yoon-sung Park, a 24-year-old technician. He had helped transport injured to more open ground, where they could receive CPR.

“People have been lying here all the way, about half a mile,” he added, pointing to the main street of Itaewon market, where rescue workers had carried covered corpses in ambulances in waves for several hours later at night. “There were so many bodies on the ground.”

The Halloween mob in Seoul’s Itaewon district has killed more than 150 people and injured dozens. South Korea declared a period of national mourning on October 30. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post, Photo: Jean Chung/The Washington Post)

Dozens of reporters lingered on the streets until around 5 a.m. Sunday morning as Yongsan Fire Department officials provided routine updates. Bodies covered in blue sheets were rolled in front of the crowd and placed in the back of ambulances in several waves throughout the night; the atmosphere was somber, with reporters speaking in low tones, if at all, as they awaited updates on what turned out to be a rapidly rising death toll.

Around 10:45 a.m. Sunday, the crowd of reporters was back. Garbage littered the sidewalks, with a small plastic pumpkin remaining taped to the driveway.

A cafe across the street displayed a handwritten sign saying it was closed for the day as a condolence to the victims. Shopkeepers and pedestrians swelled in the street around the site of the tragedy throughout the day, some standing in silence as they stared at the unchanging alley ahead. Officials in black vests from Korea Disaster Victim Identification waited in the middle of a crosswalk near the Hamilton Hotel, conversing quietly.

Several people remember seeing only a few police officers in the neighborhood before the crush, directing traffic on the main market street near the metro stations. South Korea’s interior minister said on Sunday that multiple officers had been tasked with policing a protest a few miles away in the Gwanghwamun area and that police had not anticipated unusually large crowds over the weekend. -end of Halloween.

Here’s what causes crowd crushes like the deadly one in Seoul

Dano Leemann, manager of a restaurant in Itaewon, looked tired, as if in disbelief, when he spoke on Sunday. He said he hadn’t seen more than a dozen police in the area before the crash.

“I saw people die in front of me,” he said. “I didn’t sleep last night.”

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