Witnesses say it was “like hell” inside the South Korean crash

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In an instant, thousands of Halloween revelers were crowding the narrow, lively streets of Seoul’s most cosmopolitan neighborhood, eager to show off their capes, wizard hats and bat wings.

In the next, panic spread as a gaunt mass of people jammed into a narrow alley in Itaewon. Overturned revelers piled on top of each other “like dominoes” in a chaotic crash so violent that clothes were torn.

A stunned Seoul was just getting started on Monday to gather the huge range of the crowd which killed mostly people in their 20s and 30s, including foreign nationals, on Saturday night. As of Sunday afternoon, officials put the death toll at 153 and the number of injured to 133. The Ministry of Interior and Security said it expected the death toll to rise due to the number of seriously injured.

They say witnesses the nightmarish scene intensified as people performed CPR on the dying and carried lifeless bodies into ambulances while dance music throbbed from flashy neon-lit clubs. Others tried desperately to pull out those trapped under the crush of people, but failed because many of the crowd had fallen on top of them.

Some people could not move at all for 40 minutes.

“We were stuck so tightly that we couldn’t even put our feet up to shout and report the situation,” said one witness, surnamed Lee. “We were strangers, but we held each other’s hands and repeatedly shouted ‘Let’s survive!'”

Kim Mi Sung, a witness who works for a non-profit organization in Itaewon, told The Associated Press that nine out of 10 people she gave CPR eventually died. Many were bleeding from their noses and mouths. Most were women dressed as witches or wearing other Halloween costumes. two were foreigners.

“It was like hell,” Kim said. “I still can’t believe what happened.”

In this highly wired, high-tech country, the anguish, terror, and grief—as well as many of the details of what happened—play out most vividly on social media. Users posted messages desperately searching for friends and loved ones, as witnesses and survivors described what they went through.

“I thought I was dying,” one woman said in posts on Twitter. “My whole body was stuck between everyone else, while people were laughing from a terrace and filming us. I thought I would really die if I screamed. I stretched out my hands to (others) who were above me and managed to get out.”

An unidentified female witness in her 20s broke down in tears as she described the scene to Yonhap news agency: “It looked like people’s graves were piled on top of each other. Some of them were slowly losing consciousness and others seemed to be already dead.”

A male witness, surnamed Kong, said he managed to escape to a nearby bar with his friends after the crash. He saw through the bar’s windows that people were falling over each other “like dominoes,” Yonhap reported.

Friends and family gathered at a local government office to try to find news about the missing.

“I haven’t heard about my child. How can I sleep when my child has not come home?’ an unidentified woman said, according to footage from Yonhap News TV.

A Twitter user posted a series of messages asking for information about a 17-year-old friend who had gone to Itaewon to celebrate by wearing a hair band that looked like cat ears.

“I lost touch with her. She has been my friend for 12 years and we were like family. Please help me,” the message said.

Even after the crash, some witnesses said they saw some revelers not immediately making way for emergency vehicles, rescuers and police. A viral video on Twitter showing a crowd of young people dancing and singing near the carnage drew a number of insults from South Koreans.


Jee-won Jeong contributed to this story from Bangkok.

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