As many as 149 people have been killed while 76 others were injured in a deadly stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district, as huge crowds of partygoers stampeded at late-night Halloween celebrations, fire authorities said on Sunday.
The accident took place on Saturday evening in a narrow downhill alley near Hamilton Hotel in the famous nightlife district after a throng of partygoers flooded into it, according to witnesses.
Tens of thousands of people were visiting the area for Halloween parties, Yonhap news agency reported.
A total of 149 people, including two foreigners, had been confirmed dead as of early Sunday morning with 76 others injured, 19 of them seriously, fire authorities said, adding the death toll could rise further.
Choi Seong-beom, head of the fire department in Yongsan, which includes Itaewon, told reporters “many casualties were incurred as a crowd of people fell over during Halloween parties”.
Victims in their 20s accounted for the age group most affected by the accident, the authorities also said.
Fire authorities initially received dozens of reports from people in the Itaewon area about patients with breathing difficulties. The first report was made around 10:15 p.m.
Rescuers sent to the scene had administered CPR on dozens of victims on a nearby road.
“As people in the front fell over, those in the back were crushed,” a witness in his 20s told Yonhap news agency.
Rumours at the scene were that a crowd of people had flocked to a place to see a celebrity or candies laced with drugs had been distributed at clubs, but the exact cause of the accident is yet to be known.
Shortly after the stampede, President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over two successive emergency meetings, ordering officials to swiftly administer first aid and treat the injured, the presidential office said.
Yoon also ordered officials to deploy emergency medical officials to Itaewon and secure emergency beds.
After presiding over an emergency meeting on the stampede, Yoon instructed officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.
Separately, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo instructed officials to make utmost efforts to minimise damages.
Meanwhile, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who is on a visit to Europe, decided to return home in the wake of the accident, city officials said.
A total of 848 personnel, including 346 firefighters, were mobilised for the area.
As of early Sunday, some 270 missing reports were made in connection with the accident, the Seoul city government said.
Police said they are making utmost efforts in confirming the identity of the victims and then making contacts with their family members.
Police plan to launch an investigation soon into whether bars and clubs in the area were in compliance with safety regulations.