At least 150 died in crowds during Halloween celebrations in Seoul

Officials say 150 more were injured, with many being treated for heart attacks, after the spike in the South Korean capital. South Korea's president has declared a period of national mourning after a Halloween party killed at least 150 people in Seoul's bustling nightlife area. At least 150 others were injured when a large crowd pushed forward on a narrow street during celebrations in the Itaewon district.

Choi Cheon-sik, an official with the National Fire Service, said dozens were treated for injuries in hospital after the accident in the Itaewon recreational district on Saturday night.

Officials said it was believed the people were crushed to death after a large crowd began to push forward in a narrow alley near the Hamilton Hotel, where the party was held.

More than 400 emergency workers and 140 vehicles from across the country, including all available personnel in Seoul, were deployed to the streets to treat the injured.

The National Fire Service separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

TV footage and photos from the scene showed ambulances queuing up the streets amid a heavy police presence and emergency workers moving the injured on stretchers. Emergency workers and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying on the streets.

In one clip, paramedics can be seen checking the status of a dozen or more people lying motionless under blue blankets.

The police, who restricted traffic in nearby areas to speed up transportation of the injured to hospitals across the city, also confirmed that dozens of people were given CPR on the streets of Itaewon.

The Seoul metropolitan government issued an emergency text message urging people in the area to return home immediately.

A local police officer said he had also been informed that a crush had occurred on the streets of Itaewon, where crowds gathered for Halloween celebrations. Officers requested anonymity, saying details of the incident were still under investigation.

Several local media reports previously said the crush occurred after a large number of people rushed to the Itaewon bar after hearing that an unidentified celebrity was visiting.

The president, Yoon Suk-yeol, offered his condolences to the victims and wished for a speedy recovery for the injured.

"This is truly tragic," he said in a statement. "Tragedies and disasters that shouldn't have happened happened in the heart of Seoul last night."

Yoon asked officials to ensure prompt treatment for those injured and review the safety of the celebration site. He also instructed the health ministry to immediately deploy a disaster medical relief team and secure beds at nearby hospitals to treat the injured.

Local media said about 100,000 people filled the streets of Itaewon for Halloween celebrations, the largest since the start of the pandemic following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in recent months.

Choi said all the deaths were most likely from accidents in one narrow alley. Many of the victims were women in their 20s, Choi said.

Eyewitnesses described chaotic scenes moments before the crush, with police on hand in anticipation of the Halloween event sometimes having trouble controlling the crowd.

Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of trouble in the alleys before the incident. "It was at least 10 times more crowded than usual," he told Reuters.

Social media footage showed hundreds of people crammed into the narrow, sloping alley crushed and unable to move as emergency workers and police tried to free them.

Other footage showed chaotic scenes of firefighters and residents tending to dozens of people who appeared to be unconscious.

Firefighters and eyewitnesses said people continued to flock to the already packed narrow alley as people at the top of the sloping road fell, sending others below them toppling on top of others.

An unnamed woman who said she was the mother of one survivor said her daughter and others were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled from the crowd.

A Reuters witness said a makeshift morgue was set up in a building adjacent to the scene. About four dozen bodies were carried on wheeled stretchers and transferred to government facilities to identify the victims, according to witnesses.

The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expats alike. Dozens of its bars and restaurants were packed on Saturday for Halloween after business suffered a sharp decline during three years of the pandemic.

"You'll see huge crowds at Christmas and fireworks ... but it's several orders of magnitude bigger than that," Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene. Foreigners were among those transferred to a nearby hospital.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: "All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very sad time."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: "We send our deepest thoughts and condolences to the families and friends of the dead and injured, and to the people of [South Korea] as they mourn this terrible tragedy."

With the Covid pandemic easing, curfews at bars and restaurants and the 10-person limit for private gatherings were lifted in April. The outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May.

Authorities said they were investigating the exact cause of the incident.

President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over an emergency meeting with senior aides and ordered a task force be formed to secure resources to treat the injured and to launch a thorough investigation into the causes of the disaster.

South Korea's latest deadly disaster is also the most severe for young people. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures; it was partly blamed on excessive and poorly strapped cargo and poorly trained crews for emergency situations.

Saturday's death is likely to draw public attention to what government officials have done to raise public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

This is the deadliest devastating disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and about 60 others injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.

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