Everything we know about the deadly Seoul stampede that killed 154 people

More than 100,000 people had descended on the South Korean capital of Seoul on Saturday night, excited for the city’s first grand Halloween celebration in three years, a night that turned into an unimaginable tragedy when one of the deadliest stampedes the country has ever seen erupted.

The incident happened in Seoul’s popular Itaewon district, when a huge crowd surged into a narrow downhill alley, causing hundreds of young partygoers, mainly in their 20s and 30s to become crushed in the melee.

The death toll from the disaster now stands at 154, including 22 foreign nationals and the well-known actor Lee Ji-han, 24.

At least another 132 people were injured.

Officials said there was no single organised event that had drawn thousands of revellers to the cramped alleyway in question, although it has been suggested that rumours of a celebrity sighting had sparked the crush.

Social media posts show numerous nightclubs and bars in Itaewon advertising Halloween events and promotions that night, drawing throngs of people to the area.

South Korean prime minister Han Duck-soo has since said officials are still investigating what prompted the crowd to surge but what is clear is the social media footaging showing people squeezing into the streets for several blocks surrounding the alley.

Footage taken from within the crowd showed the panic growing among partygoers just before the crush took place. Shouting and screams can be heard as revellers try to push their way out.

Just before 10.20pm local time (1.20pm GMT), chaos erupted, with police at times struggling to control the crowds, witnesses said.

People poured into one particularly narrow, sloping alley, even after it was already packed wall-to-wall with people.

Distressing phone footage showed some individuals trying to scale the sides of buildings to escape the increasing pressure, as others shouted, cried out or cursed.

When those at the top of the slope fell, it sent those below them toppling over others, witnesses said.

“We arrived around 10pm to go to a club but then saw people falling on the street,” said Moon Ju-young, 21.

“Some were bleeding, others were crying out in pain.”

One student from France, who asked not to be identified because of the trauma of the event, said he became lodged in a crush of people for about an hour and a half.

Rescue workers treat injured people on the street near the scene in Seoul (AP)
Rescue workers treat injured people on the street near the scene in Seoul (AP)

“I wanted to go to a safe place but it wasn’t possible,” he told Reuters. “I was just pushed by everyone and I just couldn’t do anything.”

He said he came out with chest pain and a hurt ankle, but expressed sympathy for those who were unable to escape, as well as the emergency workers who desperately tried to free people.

He said he felt less sympathetic towards those who continued trying to push their way through the crowd, often complicating the task of rescue workers, who told the crowd to remain calm and in place.

“I’m upset against them because they pushed everyone and they didn’t realise,” he said.

One survivor said many people fell and toppled over one another “like dominos” after they had been pushed from behind.

Viral videos showed a pile of bodies wedged between buildings, some at the bottom appearing unconscious, while others reached out to emergency workers, who struggled to free them from the crush.

Other eyewitness footage showed emergency workers and pedestrians trying to resuscitate those who were injured on the roads, as some were carried away from the scene.

The emergency services that arrived at the scenes were so overwhelmed they left many citizens to give CPR to some victims.

Flowers are seen near the scene of a deadly accident in Seoul (AP)
Flowers are seen near the scene of a deadly accident in Seoul (AP)

South Korean president Yoon Suk-Yeol, who inspected the site after the incident, said it was an incident that “need not have happened”.

He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure that they proceed safely.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Mr Yoon said during a televised speech.

“I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”

South Korea has since entered a period of national mourning out of respect for the dead, with flags at government buildings and public offices ordered to be raised at half-mast.

A public memorial is set to take place at a date and time yet to be decided.

Political leaders from across the world, with British prime minister Rishi Sunak, US president Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau all sending their condolences.

Additional reporting by agencies