At least 149 people have died and dozens more have been injured after a stampede in a popular Seoul nightlife district on Saturday night.
Approximately 100,000 revellers had gathered to celebrate Halloween in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, in an area characterised by an intense concentration of bars and restaurants in a series of narrow streets and alleyways.
But a crowd surge in a tight passageway left scores of people unconscious, with emergency workers and passers-by rushing to perform CPR amid distressing scenes. The official death toll climbed steadily over the course of Saturday night and Sunday morning and could rise further.
It is not yet known what caused the initial surge, but eyewitnesses told the Associated Press that people caught in the passageway had toppled “like dominoes” as they fell down an incline towards the main road that runs through the district.
Choi Seong-beom, head of a local fire department in central Seoul, told reporters that “many casualties were incurred as a crowd of people fell over during Halloween parties”. He said many of the victims were women in their 20s.
Seoul city authorities have said that 270 missing person reports relating to the incident have been submitted. Emergency services are understood to have struggled to identify victims, many of whom were wearing Halloween costumes and not carrying identification.
Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon, who was on a visit to Europe at the time of the incident is returning immediately to South Korea, while South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol has presided over emergency meetings to secure resources for treating the victims, many of whom remain in a critical condition, and to launch an investigation into the causes of the incident.
US president Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden issued a statement saying that “we grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.” Several other world leaders have expressed their condolences.
The incident is South Korea’s worst tragedy since the sinking of a ferry in 2014 that killed 304 people, most of them high school students. It follows a stampede at a football stadium in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta earlier this month, in which at least 125 people were killed.