Thousands of mostly young people had crowded the narrow streets of the Itaewon district on Saturday night for the first Halloween celebrations since the start of the 2020 corona pandemic. A mass panic broke out around 10 p.m. (local time).
"There were so many people being pushed around and I got trapped in the crowd and couldn't get out at first," Jeon Ga-eul, 30, told AFP. He had the feeling that sooner or later an accident would happen.
Initially, the fire department had spoken of dozens of people with cardiac arrest. Photos and videos showed people lying on the ground being cared for by rescue workers. According to the fire department, more than 140 ambulances were on site. Police officers cordoned off the scene of the accident in the popular nightlife district.
The South Korean fire department told AFP on Sunday that the death toll has now risen to at least 151 people. Among them are 19 foreigners. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that people from Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Norway died in the disaster.
The Foreign Office (AA) in Berlin was unable to provide any information on Sunday night as to whether Germans were also killed in the accident. It's too early to tell, an AA spokesman told AFP. The embassy is in close contact with the authorities.
In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, a doctor described chaotic scenes from the tragedy. "When I first attempted CPR, two victims were lying on the sidewalk. But shortly thereafter, the number exploded and exceeded the number of first responders on the scene," Lee said.
It is difficult to put the events into words. "The faces of so many of the victims were pale. I couldn't feel their pulse or breathing, and many of them had bloody noses. When I tried to revive them, I also pumped blood from their mouths."
President Suk-yeol pledged to "investigate thoroughly" the incident and ensure it never happens again. In a televised address to the nation on Sunday, he said, "A tragedy and catastrophe has happened in the center of Seoul that should not have happened." In the morning, Suk-yeol visited the scene.
The accident caused consternation worldwide. US President Biden said the US was “standing by” South Korea at this tragic time. "We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and wish all those injured a speedy recovery," the Democrat wrote on Twitter.
"The tragic events in Seoul shock us deeply," said Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) on Twitter. "Our thoughts are with the many victims and their families." It's a sad day for South Korea, Scholz added. "Germany stands by their side." French President Emmanuel Macron made a similar statement.