Seoul, South Korea
At least 146 people are now reported to have been killed during an incident at Halloween festivities in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood Saturday night, according to Choi Seong-bum, chief of the Yongsan-gu Fire Department.
At least 150 others were also reported injured, the chief added.
Authorities are still investigating exactly what caused the incident, but the fire chief said it was a “presumed stampede” and that many people fell, resulting in casualties. The chief said they received reports of people “buried” in crowds starting around 10:24 p.m. local time Saturday night.
There was no gas leak nor fire on site, according to the chief. The cause of the deaths has not been confirmed.
Earlier, the 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.”
Dozens of the injured were transferred to nearby hospitals, said Choi Jae-won, the head of Yongsan Health Center, adding that the death toll would likely increase.
The Seoul city government is also receiving reports of missing people as there are many unidentified victims. The bodies of the victims are being transferred to multiple hospital mortuaries, according to authorities.
A witness described a chaotic scene to CNN, saying he saw people jammed in a narrow street unable to breathe.
“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,” Song Sehyun told CNN.
Police closed off the area and social media videos showed people lying in the streets and on stretchers as first responders rendered aid.
The fire chief said that more than 1,700 emergency response forces have been dispatched, including 517 firefighters, 1,100 police officials, and about 70 government workers.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol sent a disaster medical assistance team to the Halloween incident and ordered authorities to “rapidly” identify the victims for the sake of worried families, according to Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Relations Kim Eun-hye.
Yoon immediately activated an emergency management headquarters with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in charge and ordered Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min to begin an investigation into the cause of the incident, Kim said.
The president also ordered authorities to secure emergency beds in hospitals nearby and to implement swift rescue operations and treatment, presidential spokesman Lee Jae-Myung said in a briefing.
Yoon was in an emergency meeting regarding the situation, the presidential office said in a statement.
The United States government is ready to provide South Korea with “any support it needs,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan wrote on Twitter Saturday.
“The reports out of Seoul are heartbreaking. We are thinking about all those who lost loved ones and hoping for a quick recovery for those injured. The United States stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs,” Sullivan wrote.