South Korea admits lack of safety measures around Halloween crush

SEOUL, 2 Nov 2022:

South Korea’s prime minister Han Duck-soo yesterday acknowledged there were insufficient protocols in place to avoid the deadly Halloween crush in central Seoul over the weekend – in which over 150 people were killed – and pledged to bring in regulatory changes to prevent such an incident from occurring in the future.

The premier said time was needed to investigate the circumstances that led to the disaster, which began when around 100,000 revellers descended on the popular party neighbourhood of Itaewon for Halloween celebrations on Saturday.

Two South Korean women in their 20s died yesterday as result of injuries sustained in the crush, bringing the overall death toll from the tragedy to 156.

Some 29 people remain in a serious condition, while another 120 have lesser injuries, the Disaster and Emergency Countermeasures Command reported.

The head of South Korea’s police force (KNPA) Yoon Hee-keun and the mayor of Seoul Oh Se-hoon yesterday apologised over the deadly human crush and pledged to improve security protocols for large events in the city.

Safety protocols lacking

At a Seoul press conference yesterday, the prime minister reiterated a statement that has been pushed by local authorities in recent days.

In South Korea, municipal authorities are not obliged to provide security protocols for an unorganised event such as the Halloween celebrations on Saturday – unlike with sporting events, concerts or rallies.

South Korea, and Seoul in particular, is known for its almost weekly protests. Han said security measures in such situations were clear, especially when there is a risk of clashes.

“Normally these gatherings of people (like Halloween) are peaceful and this incident was, as has been said, a ‘black swan’,” he said, using a metaphor to describe an unforeseen event that becomes evident with hindsight.

Police have interviewed dozens of eyewitnesses and are analysing videos published online, as well as footage collected by some 40 security cameras in the area where the crush took place.

Emergency calls

The KNPA yesterday admitted it had received a number of calls from members of the public alerting the authorities to the overcrowding in Itaewon ahead of the crush, and that it was analysing the department’s response.

PM Han added at the press conference of of over two hours that the authorities would learn from the incident. “We need to conceive a system or an infrastructure that avoids this happening again.”

Han said repatriation of the 26 foreign nationals known to have died in the crush would be covered by South Korea.

Uninsured foreign nationals injured in the tragedy would also have their funds covered and would be offered free psychological assistance, he added.

The crush is the worst tragedy to hit South Korea since the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry, in which 304 people lost their lives, most of them high school students.