Police admitted to mistakes on Monday as South Korea sought answers about how Halloween festivities in the country’s capital turned deadly.
President Yoon Suk Yeol led mourners in paying their respects at memorials in Seoul to the more than 150 people killed. His administration promised a thorough investigation into the disaster, the country’s deadliest in years.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered on Saturday in Itaewon, the capital’s popular nightlife district with foreigners, when a crowd surge began in a sloped and narrow alleyway, sparking a deadly panic.
Many of the revelers were in their teens and twenties, and they were dressed up for the country’s first Halloween celebration without Covid restrictions in three years.
As of Monday morning, the death toll in the disaster had risen to 154, including two Americans and 24 other foreign nationals. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo stated that all but one of the victims had been identified. The number of injured increased to 149, with 33 in critical condition.
Mourners left traditional white chrysanthemums, as well as snack foods, soft drinks, and bottles of beer and the Korean liquor soju, at city memorials. Two Buddhist monks chanted and performed rites in Itaewon all afternoon.
The president of the country, who has declared a week of national mourning, paid his respects to victims at a memorial near City Hall. A second memorial has been erected in Itaewon. Yoon directed the government to cover the victims’ funeral and medical expenses during the meeting. As officials investigated what happened, they urged the public not to spread false information, hate speech, or graphic video from the scene.
Police said they had formed a task force of 475 people to investigate the crush. According to senior police officer Nam Gu-Jun, the force had obtained videos taken by approximately 50 security cameras in the area and was also analyzing video clips posted on social media. Nam stated on Monday that they had interviewed more than 40 witnesses and survivors so far.
According to witnesses, there was insufficient police presence to control the crowds, which may have been larger than expected.
A top police official countered that suggestion but said authorities had failed to foresee the possibility of a deadly crush.
“It was anticipated that a large number of people would congregate there.” “However, we did not anticipate large-scale casualties as a result of the large crowd,” Hong Ki-hyun, chief of the National Police Agency’s Public Order Management Bureau, told reporters Monday.
According to Hong, 137 police officers were deployed in Itaewon on Saturday, up from 37 to 90 officers in the three years preceding the outbreak.
As a team of police officers and government forensic experts searched the area for answers about where the crowd surge began and how it developed, experts said the ultimate issue was a failure to control the number of people allowed in the area.
While Halloween is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, Itaewon is famous for its costume parties at bars and clubs, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Kerem Kerimoglu, a soccer coach, was among the thousands who gathered on Saturday.
He said that with each passing hour, he becomes more concerned that he hasn’t heard from the two friends he was separated from during the surge. “I’m concerned that they died. “The government has not yet shown people the ID,” he explained.
Kerimoglu, 27, lives approximately one mile from Itaewon’s main street. He said he returned to the scene Sunday evening to find dozens of mourners dressed in black gathered around a makeshift memorial site and offering white flowers.
The crowd surge is the country’s deadliest peacetime accident since the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014. This accident, which killed 304 people, primarily affected young people.