October 30, 2022 South Korea crowd surge news

screengrab seoul halloween crowd
Social media videos show huge crowd crammed into alley
03:02 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • At least 154 people were killed and over 100 more injured in a crowd surge at packed Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital of Seoul, local officials say.
  • At least 26 foreign nationals, including two US citizens, are among the dead. More than a dozen embassies around the globe have confirmed victims from their country.
  • The crush took place in the nightlife district of Itaewon. What caused the surge is not clear, but witnesses say partygoers were packed tightly into narrow streets.
  • South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has declared a period of national mourning.
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Our live coverage has ended for the day. You can read more here.

Biden on Americans killed in Itaewon crush: "Our hearts go out to their loved ones"

US President Joe Biden offered condolences to the families of the Americans who were killed during the crowd surge at packed Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

“Our hearts go out to their loved ones in this time of grief, and we continue to pray for their recovery,” Biden tweeted Sunday.

The US State Department confirmed the two fatalities and said three US citizens were also injured after attending the event in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood.

View Biden’s tweet here:

Seoul rescuer pulled delirious partygoers from bottom of the crush, many unconscious

Rescue officials and police gather in the district of Itaewon in Seoul, on Sunday.

A first responder to Saturday’s crowd surge disaster in Itaewon, Seoul, has given a firsthand account of the distressing sight that confronted emergency workers at the scene. They spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

“At 10:23 p.m. (9:24 a.m. ET) we received more than five reports that people fell, and they could either get hurt or die,” the first responder told CNN.

“We had bad feelings receiving the dispatch order yesterday. We knew that a lot of people would be out there because of Halloween, and that the alley is narrow. We knew that the alley goes a long way before connecting with the roadside. So, we took the reports seriously, that there could be deaths from pressure, if the alley was indeed filled with people,” they said.

“When we arrived [at the scene], we were only able to see seven, eight — no, ten — rows of faces, we couldn’t even see their legs,” they said.

The first responder said that they first pulled people out from the bottom of the crowd because “we thought they were most urgent.”

State Department: At least 3 US citizens injured in Seoul crowd surge

The US State Department says that in addition to the two fatalities previously reported, three Americans were injured in Saturday’s deadly crowd surge in central Seoul.

A State Department official confirmed the news to CNN Sunday.

United Nations secretary-general is “deeply saddened by the tragic incident” in Seoul, spokesman says

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ “is deeply saddened by the tragic incident” in Seoul, according to a statement distributed Sunday by his spokesman.

South Korea is searching for answers after Halloween celebrations in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon turned into one of the country’s worst disasters, with authorities declaring a national mourning period as they investigate how a chaotic crush left at least 154 people dead.

The secretary-general’s spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Guterres’ “expresses his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of the Republic of Korea, and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.”

Seoul crowd surge death toll climbs to 154, officials say

A person pays tribute near the scene of the crowd surge during Halloween festivities, in Seoul, on Sunday.

The death toll following Saturday’s crowd surge at a packed Halloween celebration in Seoul climbed to 154 dead, South Korea’s Interior and Safety Ministry said Sunday.

According to the ministry at least 26 foreign nationals died in the tragedy.

The ministry said it is taking all measures to provide support to bereaved relatives of the foreigners killed in the disaster, such as allowing entry into South Korea and helping with funeral arrangements.

Officials face questions in wake of Itaewon tragedy

As a stunned and grieving South Korea grapples with a tragedy that killed at least 153 people, questions are emerging about how such a disaster could have unfolded in a popular area where people are known to gather.

It’s hard to pinpoint what might have triggered the crush – but authorities “would have anticipated high numbers … before Saturday night,” said Juliette Kayyem, a disaster management expert and national security analyst for CNN.

“There is a responsibility on the part of the authorities to be monitoring crowd volume in real time, so they can sense the need to get people out,” she added.

Suah Cho, 23, was caught up in the crowd but managed to escape into a building along the alley. When asked whether she had seen any officials trying to limit the number of people entering the alley, she replied: “Before the incident, not at all.”

Another eyewitness described the situation getting “worse and worse,” saying they could hear “people asking for help for other people, because there were not enough rescuers that can just handle all that.”

What officials are saying: Lee Sang-min, Minister of the Interior and Safety, said on Sunday that “a considerable number” of police and security forces had been sent to another part of Seoul on Saturday in response to expected protests there.

Meanwhile in Itaewon, the crowd had not been unusually large, he said, so only a “normal” level of security forces had been deployed there.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has vowed to implement new measures to prevent similar incidents from happening again, saying the government would “conduct emergency inspections not only for Halloween events but also for local festivals and thoroughly manage them so they are conducted in an orderly and safe manner.”

Here's what we know about the deadly Halloween crowd surge in Seoul

A woman places flowers to pay tribute for victims in Itaewon on Sunday night.

It’s been a little more than 24 hours since a deadly crowd surge in Seoul, South Korea turned a night of Halloween celebration into a tragic national emergency.

Tens of thousands of people had packed the streets of the popular Itaewon neighborhood Saturday before the crowd grew so dense that people became trapped and panicked.

If you’re just joining us, here’s what you need to know:

  • Packed streets reach a breaking point: Officials are still investigating exactly what took place. What’s clear is that the crowds grew too large, and authorities started getting calls about people “buried” in the masses around 10:30 p.m. local time. Panicked partygoers were pressed against one another with nowhere to go.
  • The full scope of the tragedy takes shape: With so many people hospitalized or unaccounted for, official death and injury tolls weren’t initially clear. By Sunday night local time, officials confirmed at least 153 people were killed and 133 others hurt.
  • Families search for loved ones: South Korea’s president urged officials to quickly identify victims for the sake of worried families. By Sunday afternoon, more than 90% of the deceased had been identified. CNN spoke to a mother who was desperately searching hospitals for her daughter.
  • A young, global crowd of revelers: Authorities say the vast majority of those hurt or killed in the crush were in their late teens or early 20s. Itaewon is famed for its Halloween celebrations, and it drew partygoers from near and far. More than a dozen embassies confirmed citizens from their countries were among the victims.
  • Demand was pent up for the celebration: Recent celebrations were muted by pandemic restrictions on crowd sizes and mask mandates in Itaewon. Saturday night marked the first Halloween since the country lifted these restrictions. Hotels and ticketed events in the neighborhood were booked solid.
  • Never again, president vows: First responders said no apparent fire or gas leak prompted the panic, and little more is known about what exactly went wrong. Officials face questions about whether they could have better managed the crowds. South Korea’s president vowed to implement new policies to prevent such tragedies.

These are the warning signs that a crowd is becoming dangerously dense


A street in Itaewon district is pictured full of people in Seoul on Saturday night.

f you’re in a crowd and people are close enough to bump against you, it could be getting too crowded.

That’s according to G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk and head of GKStill International, a consultancy that trains event organizers on how to spot danger.

Such events, like the apparent crowd surge at packed Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital of Seoul and the tragedy at Houston’s Astroworld Festival in Nov. 2021, have led to multiple deaths and injuries.

Still, who has been studying the dynamics of crowd behavior and safety for over 30 years, said organizers can help prevent crowd-crushing incidents by monitoring a crowd’s density in real-time and regulating the flow of people into a venue.

Crowd density can be calculated in number of people per square meter, roughly a square yard. Younger, smaller people occupy less space than older and larger people, but as a rule things get uncomfortable once you reach five people per square meter, Still said — and anything more crowded can become dangerous.

“When bodies are touching, that high energy and density can give rise to these surges and crowd collapses,” Still said.

One sign a crowd has become too dense is what Still called a “field of wheat effect,” where people are uncontrollably swaying. He said an example is visible in online videos of a 2005 Oasis concert in Manchester, England, just before a big surge rippled through the crowd toward the stage.

The key to preventing a disaster, Still said, is for organizers to watch the density and, if it starts to get high, slow or stop the flow of people entering the area. He said it’s much harder to reduce crowding once the situation has become too dense.

If a venue does get too crowded, Still said, performers should stop and ask everyone to take a step back. Over the years, several performers, including A$AP Rocky and Linkin Park, have done exactly that.

If you’re in a crowd, Still said you can help yourself stay safe by watching out for areas likely to become most crowded, and making your way out of the crowd if you don’t have enough personal space.

You can learn more by viewing an interactive graphic here.

At least 26 foreign nationals from 14 countries killed in Itaewon crush, South Korean foreign ministry says

Police officers walk down the narrow alleyway in Itaewon on Saturday night.

At least 26 foreign nationals from 14 countries were killed in Saturday’s crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a press release Sunday.

The ministry said another 15 foreigners were injured. Most of them have returned home, while six are still being treated in the country.

The ministry said it is taking all measures to provide support to bereaved relatives of the foreigners killed in the disaster, such as allowing entry into South Korea and helping with funeral arrangements.

At least 2 US citizens among those killed in Seoul tragedy, US embassy says

Two US citizens were among those killed in Saturday’s Halloween disaster in Itaewon, the popular nightlife district in South Korea’s capital Seoul, the US embassy told CNN.

“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,” an embassy statement read Sunday.

“The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is working closely with local authorities and other partner organizations to assist U.S. citizens affected. We offer our sincerest condolences to the loved ones of those killed and continue to assist the injured. Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional details at this time.”

On Sunday, US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Philip Goldberg said he “expressed his sincerest condolences to the loved ones of all the deceased” in Saturday’s crowd crush in Seoul.

At least 153 people were killed in a crush, with another 133 injured, when crowds of people celebrating Halloween swelled in narrow alleys of Seoul’s popular nightlife district.

One Austrian among those killed in Halloween crowd surge, foreign ministry says

One Austrian was among those killed in the Seoul Halloween crowd surge, the Austrian foreign ministry said Sunday.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened having to confirm the death of an Austrian citizen in yesterday’s mass panic in Seoul. The Austrian was on a visit to the Korean capital,” Gabriele Juen, a diplomatic spokesperson, told CNN in a statement Sunday.

“Our Embassy in Seoul is in contact with the responsible authorities and the relatives in Austria and will support them in all further steps,” the statement added.

"I'll just keep searching": Mother of Seoul crush victim visits hospitals in hopes of finding daughter

Relatives of missing people weep at a community service center in Seoul on October 30. 

The last time Ahn Yeon-seon saw her daughter was on Saturday, when the 19-year-old asked for money so she could go out to celebrate Halloween with her boyfriend.

Hours later, Ahn received a call from the boyfriend saying her daughter had died in the crush that killed 151 people in the Itaewon nightlife district of Seoul.

Ahn told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that her daughter had wanted to mark the occasion because her boyfriend was about to undertake his mandatory military service. Seven hours after Ahn last saw her daughter, the boyfriend called, crying.

He said she had been “under a pile of people for over an hour and that he’d tried to pull her out but couldn’t,” Ahn said.

Since then, Ahn has been searching hospitals for her daughter, waiting for confirmation of what happened to her.

She spoke to Yonhap from Soonchunghyang University Hospital, where many of the victims were taken.

Despite being young, her daughter had started working early to help support her family and raise her younger siblings after the early death of their father, her mother told Yonhap.

“I’ll just keep searching,” Ahn said.

Witness: Costumes added to the chaos in Seoul — it wasn't clear if a police officer was real

Those who managed to flee the chaos in Itaewon have shared their accounts about what they saw on the ground.

One eyewitness Sung Sehyun, told CNN that the street space was like a “jammed subway,” with Halloween partygoers packed so tightly that it was difficult to move around.

“I was lucky to get through (but an) hour later, I heard people got killed. Because people got stamped on … and people got jammed together.”

The danger of the situation also did not reach many others until it was too late.

Suah Cho said people had started to push and shove, and there was a lot of screaming. She eventually managed to take a detour and fled to safety but had seen people climbing buildings to survive.

“At that time I realized how serious it was. Before I couldn’t really tell. Ambulances and police usually attend these big events.”

French national among those killed in Halloween crush, foreign ministry says

A French national is among those killed in the Seoul Halloween crowd surge, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of one of our compatriots during the tragedy in Seoul. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europe via its crisis support center and its embassy in Seoul is fully mobilized to assist and support the family of our compatriot,” a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Sunday.

So far, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway and France have all confirmed deaths of their nationals in the incident that took place in the popular Seoul nightclub district of Itaewon Saturday night.

Nearly all of the people confirmed dead in the Seoul crush have been identified, police say

Seoul Metropolitan Police said they have confirmed the identities of nearly all those killed in an apparent crowd surge at Seoul’s popular nightclub district Itaewon on Saturday.

The identities of 150 people killed have been confirmed, police told CNN on Sunday. The death toll from the disaster stands at 153.

The three bodies who have yet to be identified are all young women whose nationalities have yet to be verified, they added. 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government had said they had received 4,024 missing persons reports as of 5 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET), though some of these reports could relate to the same people.

Police said there is no active search for those reported missing as they believe no one went missing from the scene. They said thousands of missing person reports have been used to help identify those killed in the incident.

"People were still partying on the streets, oblivious to what was happening," eyewitness says

An English teacher in Seoul who was passing through Itaewon on Saturday night recounted what she saw to CNN.

“There were rows and rows of people with tarps covering them in the street,” said Emily Farmer, 27.

Farmer, who was with two friends, said she did not see any crowd control measures in place in the area.

The tragedy has killed at least 151 people and left dozens more hurt. Nineteen foreign nationals, from Iran, Norway, China and Uzbekistan, are also among the dead. 

Farmer and her friends were “overwhelmed” by the crowds on the street and decided to enter a bar.

Shortly after, rumors started spreading that somebody had died and patrons were not allowed to leave. Farmer said she received an emergency message from the government alerting them to “a dangerous situation in the area.”

She was allowed to leave the bar at around midnight and she learned of the tragedy that had taken place just outside.

“It was horrible,” she said. “Not everyone died instantly.”

“They were still pulling people (out) because it was so crowded,” she added.

Groups of people were crying, she added. Many victims were receiving CPR and had their costumes taken off to allow medics at the scene to resuscitate them.

She still hasn’t heard back from two acquaintances in the area who she messaged last night. “I’m still in shock. It was obviously very traumatic,” she added.

What we know about the Halloween disaster in Seoul

Rescue crews seen in the nightlife district of Itaewon in Seoul on October 30.

On Saturday night, tens of thousands of people flooded into the streets of the Itaewon neighborhood in Seoul to celebrate Halloween.

But as the night went on, panic erupted as the crowds swelled. What exactly caused the crush still isn’t clear, but witnesses say partygoers had been packed tightly in the district’s narrow streets and it was difficult to move around.

As of Sunday afternoon, 153 people have been killed – making it one of the country’s worst disasters.

Here’s a recap of what else we know so far.


South Korea searches for answers after Halloween festivities leave 151 dead
What we know about the deadly Halloween disaster in Seoul


South Korea searches for answers after Halloween festivities leave 151 dead
What we know about the deadly Halloween disaster in Seoul