Seoul the capital city of South Korea where modern skyscrapers, high tech subways and pop culture meet.
During weekends the busy streets of Seoul are busy with party goers and tourists. Now the streets of central Centre part of Seoul are filled with mourns of people as its the site of one of the country’s worst disasters.
On Saturday night, thousands of people filled the area in central Seoul to celebrate Halloween but panic rose as the crowds increased with some witnesses saying it become hard to breathe and move.
Sunday the number of dead increased to 154 with dozens injured, authorities have launched an ongoing investigation to find out how a night that was supposed to be festive went horribly wrong as families across the country mourn and search for their loved ones.
Why the crowd was big?
For the past two years, celebrations were muted by pandemic restrictions on crowds sizes and mask mandates.
Saturday night marked the first festival (Halloween) since the country lifted the restrictions , leading in particular significance for a large turn up of participants in Seoul as well as international visitors including foreign residents and tourists.
Hotels and ticked events in the neighbourhood had been booked in advance as large crowds were expected.
Witnesses told CNN there was very little crowd control before the mass of people turned deadly.
Videos and photos posted on social media show people crammed together , standing shoulder to shoulder in the narrow street.
After the first emergency call came in around 10:24p.m ,authorities rushed to the scene but the sheer volume of people made it difficult to reach those who needed help.
Videos posted on social media , showed people performing compressions on other partygoers lying on the ground waiting for medical assistance.
The thousands of people in Halloween costumes also contributed to wide spread of confusion and chaos. One witness described seeing a police officer shouting during the disasters but was mistaken for another partygoer.
The casualties were mostly teens and early 20’s, authorities said . Known for its night life and trendy restaurants Itaewon is popular among backpackers and international students.
Among the 154 dead, 26 were of foreign nationals according to the authorities. with victims from countries including United States, China, Iran, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam ,Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
As of Sunday 5p.m local time, the number of injured had risen to 133 of whom 37 were seriously injured the ministry said.
The government said more than 4000 missing peoples reports had been filed. The reports filed could be of the same people.
Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang Min said, on Sunday that ‘a considerable number of police and security forces had been sent to another part of Seoul as protest was to be expected.
Meanwhile in Itaweon, the crowd had not been large he said only a normal level of security forces had been deployed.
As the disaster unfolded Saturday night, more than 1700 emergency forces were dispatched , including more than 500 firefighters, 2200 police officials and about 70 government workers.
President Yoon Suk Yeol called an emergency meeting and urged officials to identify the dead as soon as possible.
Hours later, families were still waiting to find if their loved ones survived.
As a result, many people were transferred to nearby facilities while bodies were taken to multiple hospital mortuaries. Families gathered at the scene where officials were compiling the names of the missing and deceased.
Yoon promised to implement new orders to prevent similar incidents from happening , saying the government would conduct emergency inspection for all festivals and thoroughly manage them so they are conducted in an orderly and safe manner.
The government will also provide psychological treatment and a fund for families of the deceased and injured. Authorities have declared a national mourning period until November 5, and designated the district of Yongsan-gu , where Itaweon is located , a special disaster area.
Questions emerged about how such a disaster could have unfolded in a popular area where people are known to gather.
It is hard to pinpoint what might have caused the surge .But authorities “would have anticipated high numbers before Saturday night” said Juliette Kayyem, a disaster management expert and nation security analyst for CNN.
An eyewitness described the situation getting “worse and worse” saying they could hear ” people asking for help for other people because there were not enough rescuers that can just handle all that.”