Seoul, South Korea
At the cavernous gymnasium in Seoul on Tuesday, grieving families searched elaborate rows of belongings left behind at the scene of the fatal accident on Itaewon Street.
Shoes, bags, eyeglasses, notebooks, wallets, card holders and colorful hats were laid out on makeshift tables and exercise mats along the polished floor – waiting to be claimed by relatives of the 156 victims killed Saturday night.
“I find it. “I think this is the black coat,” said a woman, hugging him as she sobbed.
The middle-aged woman, who had arrived with her husband, fell to the floor in tears after discovering a pair of knee-high boots. It was among the rows of black shoes, high-heeled shoes and sneakers. In many cases, there was only one shoe.
A younger woman, who had a splint on her left arm, walked into the gym to find her missing shoes. This woman, who did not wish to reveal her name, said that she was in front of a bar in the alley when the stampede happened.
Stuck in the crowd, she said she fainted from suffocation “so much that I thought I was dead, but a foreigner yelled at me to get up.” Her arm was badly bruised during the accident, and after arriving, the woman said she held on until the crowd calmed down and she could be saved.
The family members entered the gymnasium, one by one and in small groups, accompanied by officials who hastily put on white gloves and showed them to the tables, so that they could inspect and claim the carefully arranged property.
South Korea mourns the deaths of 156 people, including 26 foreigners, in a crowd on Saturday night when up to 100,000 people thronged the narrow streets of Itaewon to celebrate Halloween.
Officials expected large numbers due to the area’s popularity for Halloween parties in the pre-Covid years, but police admitted they weren’t prepared for a crowd this year.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Yoon Hee-kyun, the head of the National Police Agency, bowed deeply as he began a press conference, acknowledging for the first time the failure on behalf of the police in the capital that night.
Yoon said officers failed to respond adequately to emergency calls that flooded into the police call center before the disaster.
“The calls were about emergencies informing us of the danger and urgency of the situation in which large crowds had gathered before the accident,” Yoon said. “However, we believe that the police response to 112 (the emergency phone number) was not sufficient.”
South Korean police received at least 11 calls from people in Itaewon regarding concerns of a possible crush four hours before the accident Saturday night, records provided to CNN by the National Police Agency showed.
The first call was made at 6:34 p.m. Saturday from a location near the Hamilton Hotel, adjacent to the alley where the fatal surge occurred, according to records.
“People go up and down the alley now, but it looks really dangerous. People can’t go down but people keep going up (the alley), so I’m afraid people will be crushed,” said one caller, according to the record.
“I managed to get out, but it’s too crowded. I think you need to control this. Nobody is in control (the crowd). I think the police officers should stand here and move some people so that others can go through the alley. People can’t even pass but there is more.” of people streaming,” the caller added.
Then at 8:09 p.m., another person in Itaewon mentioned that there were so many people in the area that they were falling and getting hurt. The log shows that the caller requested traffic control.
The deadly wave of crowds occurred shortly after 10 p.m.
On Monday, Oh Seung-jin, director of the agency’s Violent Crime Investigation Division, said about 137 personnel were deployed to Itaewon that night, compared to about 30 to 90 personnel in previous years before the pandemic.
“On Halloween at this time, because a lot of people were expected to gather in Itaewon, I understand that the preparation was done by deploying more police forces than in other years,” Oh said.
However, police at the site have been tasked with cracking down on illegal activities such as drug use and sexual assault in the area “rather than taking control of the site,” Oh said.
On Tuesday, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duk-soo said a “lack of institutional knowledge and consideration for crowd management” was partly to blame for the crowds.
One reason was the lack of deep institutional knowledge and consideration of crowd management. However, the police are investigating.
“Even if more police were sent (to the site), there seems to have been a limit in the situation as we don’t have a crowd management system in place, but we will need to wait for the police investigation to find out the cause,” he added.
At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Yoon Seok-yeol urged the need to create regulations to prevent similar tragedies.
“In addition to the side streets where a big disaster happened this time, (we) need to put in place safety measures in stadiums, performance venues etc. where crowds gather,” he said, adding that the government will hold a meeting to inspect the national safety system with relevant ministers and experts soon.