Halloween Disaster in South Korea: A holiday celebration quickly turned to chaos in Seoul

By: Jennie Brouse

On the evening of Oct. 29, tragedy struck Seoul, South Korea, as Halloween festivities got out of hand amongst people celebrating the holiday. 

In the wake of a death toll that rose from 20 to 156 throughout the night, families scoured the streets looking for loved ones in the blur of a stampede. 

The majority of the stampede took place in an alley off of the main road the celebration was taking place on. The alley was a heavily trafficked area for those who wanted to access the main strip of nightlife, also known as Itaewon in Seoul, which, being only 13 feet wide, filled up rather quickly the night of the events. 

Waltonian | The Waltonian People gather for mass vigil for the victims/Source: South China Morning Post

According to CNN, “On weekends, the alley becomes a busy thoroughfare for people coming and going, giving it a convivial atmosphere where friends meet up and party.” 

The night of the stampede was no exception to these practices, however, an estimated 100,000 were expected in the area that night, with no prior city preparation. 

Seoul is known for its Halloween celebrations and traditions. While trick or treating is not common, young adult costume parties are, and people gather from all over the world to partake in the festivities. 

According to CNN, “Halloween in Itaewon isn’t a single event held by an organizer – rather, it’s a popular place for young people, often dressed in elaborate costumes, to go bar hopping and clubbing.”

19 of the people killed in the events were foreigners to Seoul. The majority of the afflicted parties were teens and young adults in their 20s. Two of the people killed were American exchange students, Anne Gieske and Steven Blesi.

The lack of prior resources and planning by police agencies was quickly brought to media attention and earned an outcry from survivors and victims’ families.

On Monday, Nov. 7, South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, pledged to hold any officials found to be responsible for sloppy responses accountable and to reform police and safety management systems.

Shortly after the tragedy, Yoon declared a week-long mourning period in the aftermath of the events. 

Sources: AP, NBC, CNN, Reuters

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