A stampede in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul has left at least 151 people dead, officials have stated.
At least 82 were injured in the incident in the Itaewon nightlife area which was holding its first unmasked Halloween celebrations since Covid.
Reports describe a desperate scene of people caught up in the crush piling on top of each other.
Most of the dead were teenagers or in their 20s. Nineteen were foreigners.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol convened an emergency meeting in the early hours of Sunday, and later addressed the nation to call a national period of mourning “until the handling of the accident is concluded.”
“A tragedy that should not have happened occurred in the middle of Seoul last night on Halloween,” Yoon said. “I pray for those who died in an unexpected accident and hope that the injured will recover quickly.”
With the death toll as it stands, this is the deadliest disaster in South Korea since 2014, when the Sewol ferry sank killing more than 300 people.
Witnesses said that even before the chaos broke out, partygoers were packed so tightly in the narrow streets that it was difficult to move around.
“I saw people going to the left side and I saw the person getting to the opposite side. So, the person in the middle got jammed, so they had no way to communicate, they could not breathe,” Witness Sung Sehyun told CNN. He said the space was like a “jammed subway.”
An estimated 100,000 people came to celebrate there on Saturday to mark the first Halloween since the start of the pandemic where gathering sizes were not limited and people did not need to wear masks outside.
Authorities received the first reports of people “buried” in crowds around 10:24 p.m. on Saturday night.
Yonhap News Agency reported that some people had suffered from “cardiac arrest,” attributing the statement to fire authorities. Emergency officials assisted at least 81 people in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood reporting “difficulty breathing.” But early suggestions of a gas leak or fire were discounted.