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Seoul, Oct 29 (UiTV/IANS) – As many as 146 people have been killed while 150 others were injured in a deadly stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district, as huge crowds of partygoers stampeded at late-night Halloween celebrations, fire authorities said on Sunday.
The accident took place on Saturday evening in a narrow downhill alley near Hamilton Hotel in the famous nightlife district after a throng of partygoers flooded into it, according to witnesses.
Tens of thousands of people were visiting the area for Halloween parties, Yonhap news agency reported.
A total of 146 people had been confirmed dead as of early Sunday morning with 150 others injured, fire authorities said, adding the death toll could rise further.
Choi Seong-beom, Head of the Fire Department in Yongsan, which includes Itaewon, told reporters “many casualties were incurred as a crowd of people fell over during Halloween parties”.
Victims in their 20s accounted for the age group most affected by the accident, the authorities also said.
Fire authorities initially received dozens of reports from people in the Itaewon area about patients with breathing difficulties. Rescuers sent to the scene had administered CPR on dozens of victims on a nearby road.
“As people in the front fell over, those in the back were crushed,” a witness in his 20s told Yonhap news agency.
Rumours at the scene were that a crowd of people had flocked to a place to see a celebrity or candies laced with drugs had been distributed at clubs, but the exact cause of the accident is yet to be known.
Shortly after the stampede, President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over two successive emergency meetings, ordering officials to swiftly administer first aid and treat the injured, the presidential office said.
Yoon also ordered officials to deploy emergency medical officials to Itaewon and secure emergency beds.
After presiding over an emergency meeting on the stampede, Yoon instructed officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.
Separately, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo instructed officials to make utmost efforts to minimise damages.
Meanwhile, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who is on a visit to Europe, decided to return home in the wake of the accident, city officials said.
A total of 848 personnel, including 346 firefighters, were mobilised for the area.
Police plan to launch an investigation soon into whether bars and clubs in the area were in compliance with safety regulations.
Biden, Macron offers deepest condolences
US President Joe Biden expressed “deepest condolences” over a deadly stampede in Seoul that killed at least 149 people.
“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul. We grieve with the people of South Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured,” Biden said in a statement, referring to first lady Jill Biden.
“The Alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital — and the ties between our people are stronger than ever. The US stands with South Korea during this tragic time,” he added as quoted by Yonhap news agency report.
The France’s President Emmanuel Macron has conveyed his “heartfelt thoughts” to the residents of Seoul and South Koreans in a tweet after the stampede, BBC reported
“France is by your side,” said Macron.
Europe Visit of Seoul mayor cancelled
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon cut short his trip to Europe and was on his way back home after the deadly crush at the Itaewon district that killed 149 people during Halloween festivities, his office said on Sunday.
Oh had been on an 11-day trip since October 21 that took him to major cities in France, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands for visits to key city development sites and a global meeting of Olympic host cities.
While in Rotterdam, Oh was briefed over the phone by the chief of Seoul’s fire department on the Itaewon accident and decided to cut his trip short and return home, Yonhap news agency reported.
He also instructed his city officials over the phone to set up an emergency headquarters to deal with the aftermath and do their best in handling the case swiftly, according to his office.
Oh was initially set to return on Monday.
Yoon Adressed nation
President Yoon Suk-yeol will address the nation on the deadly stampede in Itaewon at 9:45 a.m., his office said on Sunday.
At least 149 people were killed in the stampede during Halloween festivities late Saturday, Yonhap news agency reported.
Foreign leaders send condolence messages
World leaders have sent messages of condolences and support to South Korea after a deadly stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district killed at least 151 people during Halloween celebrations.
“We grieve with the people of South Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a tweet, “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”
In a message written in French and Korean, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “I extend my condolences to the citizens of Seoul and the Korean people in the Itaewon disaster. France is by your side.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a tweet that his country is “deeply saddened by the tragic events in Seoul,” calling it “a sad day for South Korea.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also left similar messages of deep condolences, Yonhap news agency reported.
Josep Borrell, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, said, “Deeply saddened by the terrible events in central Seoul. What meant to be a celebration turned into a tragedy with so many young casualties. We are with the people of South Korea at this difficult moment,”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan wrote in a tweet that he hoped for “a quick recovery for those injured” in the “heartbreaking” accident and that the US “stands ready to provide South Korea with any support it needs”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said, “We send our thoughts and deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased and injured, as well as to the people of South Korea as they mourn this horrific tragedy,” referring to Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.