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South Korea in mourning after Halloween crowd crush kills at least 153, including two Americans

“How could this happen?” Lee Da-eum asked.

SEOUL, South Korea — As morning arrived in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood, quiet prevailed at the scene of the tragedy where at least 153 people died on what should have been a night of Halloween revelry.

Some sat stunned on the sidewalk, still trying to process the night's events, while groups of stragglers still in costume wandered down streets as police blocked off the entrances to the alleys. Emergency vehicles stood idle.

“How could this happen?” Lee Da-eum, 25, asked.

She said she had been in a nearby club when she heard there had been an accident outside. “Then my mom started calling and texting after she saw the news,” she said. “She knew I was coming here and was so worried.”

She said she had noticed the area was getting overcrowded even though she had arrived early for the night's celebrations.

Lee was one of the lucky ones.

What we know about the deadly incident in Seoul

  • At least 153 people were killed and 103 were injured, officials said.
  • Two U.S. citizens were among the dead, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul confirmed.
  • Twenty-three people are in critical condition, while 79 have less severe injuries.
  • Survivors reported people in the packed crowd falling over one another and getting trampled as they were pushed down narrow alleys in the popular nightlife district.
  • Health care workers and bystanders administered CPR to people on the streets, and officials said all available emergency workers in the city were mobilized.

The death toll continued to rise Sunday. The Yongsan fire department said in an update that 153 people had been killed and that 103 others had been injured in crowd surge Saturday night as thousands turned out for Halloween festivities in the popular nightlife district.

Two U.S. citizens were among the dead, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul confirmed Sunday. “Our staff in Seoul and colleagues in the United States are working tirelessly to provide consular assistance to the victims of last night’s incident and their families,” the spokesperson said.

The University of Kentucky identified one of its students, Anne Gieske, a third-year nursing student from northern Kentucky, as one of the two U.S. victims who perished in the crowd crush, the university’s president, Eli Capilouto, announced to the school Sunday.

Gieske was studying in South Korea this semester, Capilouto said. The embassy did not provide any details about the victims, such as their ages or identities. The other U.S. victim remains unidentified.

The Yongsan fire department said in a statement that the other foreign victims were from China, Iran, France, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Austria and Kazakhstan. Of the injured, 23 are in critical condition, while 79 others have less severe injuries. Most were in their late teens and 20s, said Choi Seong-beom, the chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department.

At least 90% of the victims had been identified by midday Sunday; there were delays in identifying some foreign nationals and teenagers under 17 who did not yet have identification cards, South Korea's Interior Ministry said in a statement.

While Halloween is not a traditional holiday in South Korea, Itaewon is known for its costume parties at bars and clubs, which have soared in popularity in recent years.

Onlookers, police and paramedics gather where more than 150 people died in Seoul's Itaewon district on Oct. 30, 2022.
Emergency responders on Sunday.Jung Yeon-je / AFP - Getty Images

Benedict Manlapaz, 23, said that he was unaware of the scale of the tragedy as he walked through the crowds but that it became clear as he witnessed the emergency services arriving in large numbers from a coffee shop where he was hanging out with his friends.

He said he saw “bodies lined up next to each other, all covered in blue bags.”

As concerned relatives rushed to hospitals in search of their loved ones, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared an indefinite period of national mourning in a televised address.

“The sorrow is too much to bear,” he said, calling for a thorough investigation. “We will fundamentally address the root of the cause and make sure that such accidents are never repeated.”

Prime Minister Han Duk-soo later said the period of mourning would run until Saturday.

The last major tragedy in South Korea also hit young people. In April 2014, more than 300 people, most of them high school students, died when a ferry sank in Seoul.

Stella Kim and Thomas Maresca reported from South Korea. Mithil Aggarwal reported from Hong Kong.