A look into the Itaewon Halloween Crowd Crush
What began as a celebratory event ended up as a tragic disaster. The Itaewon Halloween Crowd Crush occurred on October 29, 2022, a day before Halloween, and instantly gained global attention. The incident occurred at Itaewon, a popular location in Seoul where many in their teens and twenties often go for nightlife gatherings. This marked the second most deaths in South Korea since the sinking of MV Sewol in 2014. While this incident was a surprise to many worldwide, crowd crushes have occurred countless times in the past and have led to deadly outcomes.
The horrific crowd crush occurred at 22:15, but many claim that the disaster was prone to occur any time sooner. That evening, approximately 100,000 people were estimated to have joined the festivals there, being one of the first major events held since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted after three years. The incident took the lives of 159 people (as of January 30, 2023) and left around 200 severely injured. Most of the victims were in their twenties, and the event also took the lives of twenty foreigners from fourteen different countries outside of South Korea. The Itaewon district is known for having very narrow street alleys with dead ends.
The lane where the crowd crush occurred was only 3.2 meters wide and 45 meters long and as the image shows, people converged towards the lane from three different directions. This ultimately caused the people at the top of the slope to fall on those below, resulting in the crush. Nuhyil Ahammed, one of the many who were in the crowd claimed, "People were suffocating, screaming, getting squeezed, falling... there were just too many people" (Slow 2022). Following the crush, videos and images on social media showed emergency responders trying to pull people out of the pile of bodies. Contributing with the emergency responders, several members of the public were also seen attempting CPR on lifeless bodies laid on blue sheets. According to Mythreyee Ramesh of The Quint, the Seoul National University Hospital has claimed that the most common cause of death of the victims was compressive asphyxia, in which there is a reduction of oxygen supply to vital parts of the body such as the heart and brain, eventually leading to suffocation and cardiac arrest.
Past Major Cases in History
Even from ancient times, crowd crushes have been recorded. The incident known for its most documented deaths occurred at the Ponte das Barcas in Portugal in 1809, where an estimation of 10,000 deaths was noted. Some more recent major cases include the 2015 Mina stampede, where more than 2000 people were killed during the Hajj pilgrimage due to overcrowding. Unfortunate cases of crowd crushes in the past have occurred in Japan as well. A major example is the Akashi pedestrian bridge accident in 2001 that occurred when a large crowd of people packed into a pedestrian overpass after a fireworks show, leading to eleven deaths and 183 injuries. After the tragedy, significant focus was set on the security system's deficiency and it was discovered that while the Akashi fireworks event was estimated to have up to 200,000 participants, the security plan published for the event was designed for only 55,000 people. Learning from this painful event, Japan revised its security and safety regulation laws and more security has been provided for major events.
Just as this past case in Japan brought attention to the security systems and regulations at the time, the Itaewon Halloween Crowd Crush has also provoked a spotlight on such topics. On the night of the incident, authorities claimed they had 137 officers on watch, with most on guard for drug crimes. This was far too less in comparison to the thousands of people who were present in the area. Typically, safety management plans for gatherings of more than 1000 people must be submitted to the government. Yet, in the case of the Itaewon Halloween events, this was not submitted as there was no specific event organizer. The media also criticized the authorities' emergency response after it was reported that several emergency calls were made to the fire department prior to the crowd crush. On top of this, in December, the former head of the police department surrounding Itaewon was arrested with the accusation of "professional negligence resulting in death and injury, as well as falsification of public documents" (NHK).
In these ways, it can be seen that the Itaewon Halloween crowd crush instantly became a historical tragedy, bringing worldwide attention to various systems and events. We can only hope that further measures will be taken and such incidents would not repeat again in the future.
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