151 people die in South Korea festival

South Korea is searching for answers after Halloween celebrations in the capital Seoul turned into one of the country’s worst disasters, with authorities declaring a national mourning period as they investigate how a chaotic crush left at least 151 people dead.

Tens of thousands of costumed partygoers — mostly teenagers and young adults — had poured into the popular nightlife neighborhood Itaewon to enjoy South Korea’s first Halloween celebration since it lifted Covid restrictions such as crowd limits and face mask rules.

But the festivities descended into chaos, with photos and videos on social media showing huge crowds crammed into a narrow alley. Eyewitnesses described partygoers being packed so tightly together it was difficult to move around or even breathe.

Suah Cho, 23, described walking through an alley when “suddenly, some people started pushing each other, and people were screaming.”

The screaming went on for 15 minutes, she said, adding: “It was just panic.”  “Some people were going forward and some people were going backward, and then just they were pushing each other,” she added.

She was able to escape into a building along the alley, where she watched the disaster unfold. She said some people had told her that “people were climbing the building to survive.”

Authorities are still investigating what caused the incident, but Choi Seong-bum, chief of the Yongsan-gu Fire Department, said it was a “presumed stampede” and that many people fell, injuring at least 82.

The dead included at least 19 foreign nationals, including people from Iran, Norway, China and Uzbekistan, he said.

One Thai national is among the dead, the Thai Foreign Ministry said.

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