South Korea police admit crowd surge response was 'insufficient'

AFP

3 min read
Personal belongings retrieved by police from the scene of a fatal Halloween crowd surge that killed more than 150 people in the Itaewon district are displayed at a gymnasium for relatives of victims to collect, in Seoul, South Korea, on November 1, 2022.
Anthony WALLACE / AFPPersonal belongings retrieved by police from the scene of a fatal Halloween crowd surge that killed more than 150 people in the Itaewon district are displayed at a gymnasium for relatives of victims to collect, in Seoul, South Korea, on November 1, 2022.

The national police chief says that there were 'multiple reports... indicating the seriousness at the site'

South Korean police admitted Tuesday that their emergency response to a deadly Halloween crush had been "insufficient," with top officials saying crowd management failures had likely contributed to the disaster. 

At least 156 mostly young people were killed, and scores more injured, in a deadly crowd surge late Saturday at the first post-pandemic Halloween party in Seoul's popular Itaewon nightlife district.

An estimated 100,000 people had flocked to the area, but because it was not an "official" event with a designated organizer, neither the police nor local authorities were actively managing the crowd.

"There were multiple reports to the police indicating the seriousness at the site just before the accident occurred," national police chief Yoon Hee-keun said.

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Police knew "a large crowd had gathered even before the accident occurred, urgently indicating the danger," he said, acknowledging the way this information was handled had been "insufficient."

Transcripts of emergency calls reported by South Korean news agency News1 documented how desperate members of the public had flagged dangerous overcrowding hours before disaster struck at around 10:00 pm local time Saturday.

At 8:09 pm one caller told police: "There are too many people here being pushed, trampled, hurt. It's chaotic. You need to control this."

Seoul's interior minister, who had been criticized for earlier comments in which he claimed deploying more police would not have prevented the crush, apologized Tuesday for the disaster.

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Lee Sang-min expressed his "sincere apologies to the public as the minister in charge of the people's safety for this accident," before bowing his head before lawmakers and cameras.

He promised to investigate what had caused the crowd crush and to ensure a disaster of this scale could never happen again.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon also made a public apology, weeping as he said he felt "infinitely responsible for this accident."

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Tuesday that a lack of a proper crowd management system may have caused the incident, adding that a full review was ongoing.

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