SEOUL, South Korea — The primary warning got here round 4 hours earlier than the crush turned lethal in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood as revelers celebrated Halloween.
“Too many individuals are going up and down and it’s too scary,” the unidentified caller advised police within the South Korean capital because the crowds constructed up at round 6:30 p.m. native time (4:30 a.m ET) on Saturday. “Individuals aren’t in a position to come down however [people] are additionally pushing to go up and I feel [they] might get crushed to loss of life.”
It was certainly one of 11 name transcripts launched by South Korea‘s Nationwide Police Company on Tuesday, which present callers used the Korean phrase that means “crushed to loss of life” at the least 13 completely different instances as they requested for assist earlier than the tragedy unfolded in a slender alley that runs between the lodge and a dense row of storefronts. Authorities mentioned 156 individuals have been killed.
Police and authorities officers have confronted pointed questions on why they didn’t make use of crowd controls or enough personnel within the small nightlife district, regardless of anticipating a crowd of 100,000.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon wept and briefly halted a information convention Tuesday as he talked in regards to the dad or mum of a 20-year-old girl who was declared lifeless earlier within the day. “I’m sorry that my apology has come late,” he mentioned.
His feedback got here lower than 24 hours earlier than members of the Nationwide Police Company’s particular investigation unit raided police departments within the metropolis as a part of its investigation into whether or not bureaucratic ineptitude contributed to the scenario.
“At about 5 individuals per sq. meter, any sort of crowd motion can create a crush,” mentioned John Drury, professor of crowd psychology on the College of Sussex in the UK. “It really collapses the chest, causes asphyxiation and folks can die standing up.”
Primarily based on video he had seen, he mentioned that the scenario in Seoul was “a recipe for catastrophe” as a result of too many individuals have been in the identical place making it laborious for them to go away, and there was “no single move of motion as a result of individuals have been making an attempt to do various things.”
His evaluation seems to be corroborated by Lee Kyung-min, 29, who mentioned she had dressed up and had her make-up finished for a uncommon alternative to have enjoyable following the easing of Covid restrictions in latest months and to shake off stress from a demanding new job.
At first, she mentioned she was curious in regards to the massive variety of individuals, so she joined the throng together with her pal however “immediately we felt the gang surge in a short time and I felt stuffy.”
“Then I began to scent a wierd stench that usually comes with too many individuals round,” she mentioned, including that they turned away “as a result of we felt the gang to be harmful.”
Stewards and barricades might have been set as much as regulate the influx of the gang, mentioned Keith Nonetheless, a professor of crowd science on the College of Suffolk in the UK. “When you perceive the danger, then put the mitigation measures in place to manage the variety of those who move into that space,” he mentioned.
As Saturday’s festivities had no central organizer, not like political occasions or pop live shows, authorities authorities weren’t legally required to determine or implement security protocols. Chief Kim Gwang-ho from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Company mentioned at a information convention Monday that police had no authorized steering on how you can reply.
He mentioned 137 officers had been despatched to the neighborhood, greater than within the years earlier than the pandemic, though that they had been tasked with stopping crime fairly than crowd management.
He added that police had anticipated massive crowds however “didn’t count on large-scale casualties.”
For Milad Haghani, a senior lecturer who focuses on transport and security analysis on the College of New South Wales in Australia, police ought to have been higher ready on Halloween, which isn’t a standard vacation in South Korea, however remains to be a serious attraction for younger individuals and extensively promoted in bars and golf equipment.
“You may go to the previous and have a tough thought of how many individuals have proven up and likewise take note of the truth that that is an occasion after social distancing measures have been lifted,” he mentioned.
He added that “the routes for paramedics to have the ability to navigate via the gang weren’t predicted, and since the realm was so restricted, that wouldn’t have given any entry to the center of the gang.”
With emergency personnel successfully blocked from tending the unconscious our bodies, partygoers like Sophia Akhiyat, a physician visiting from Florida, mentioned she needed to step in to carry out CPR. “It was simply the sheer quantity of victims on the ground,” she mentioned.
Even when planning was poor, Haghani mentioned that synthetic intelligence-based crowd administration instruments can be found that allow operators to quickly deploy emergency measures.
“Utilizing real-time CCTV footage, you may decide the temper of the gang utilizing facial recognition instruments and inform when it’s getting uncomfortable,” he mentioned. “If anyone has the experience to interpret these alerts, you may then cease the influx.”
Nationwide Police Chief Yoon Hee Keun acknowledged Monday that preliminary investigations discovered that cops didn’t successfully deal with calls notifying authorities in regards to the potential hazard of the gang gathering in Itaewon.
Yoon mentioned police have launched an inside probe into the officers’ dealing with of the emergency calls and different points, together with the on-the-spot response to the gang surge in Itaewon that evening.
Among the many calls investigated shall be one which got here in round 4 minutes earlier than individuals started to fall over every at round 10:15 p.m.
Noting that screams have been heard over the cellphone, the transcript of the decision says: “We’re going to be crushed to loss of life right here. It’s loopy.”
Stella Kim reported from Seoul, and Mithil Aggarwal from Hong Kong.