At least 149 people were killed and 150 others injured in a stampede during Halloween celebrations in Seoul, officials said in one of South Korea’s worst disasters that is likely to raise serious questions about public safety standards.

A huge death toll has been reported after people were crushed by a large crowd that surged forward in a narrow alleyway in Seoul’s Ithaewon neighborhood, the capital’s main entertainment and nightlife district.

Choi Sung-beom, chief of the Seoul Yongsan Fire Department, said the death toll could rise and that an unspecified number of injured were in critical condition after the stampede in Itaewon on Saturday night.

He said the bodies were sent to hospitals or gymnasiums where family members of the deceased could identify them. Earlier, he said that most of the dead and wounded were in their 20s.

Rescue teams and firefighters work at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a Halloween stampede in Seoul
A rescue team and firefighters work at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a stampede during the Halloween festival in Seoul, South Korea, October 30, 2022.


More than 1,700 responders from across the country were involved, including about 520 firefighters and 1,100 police and 70 civil servants. The National Fire Agency said in a statement that all available Seoul emergency personnel had been mobilized.

An estimated 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon — near the former US military headquarters in an area known for trendy bars, clubs and restaurants — for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween celebration since the pandemic began. The South Korean government has eased its COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.

One survivor said many people fell and toppled over each other “like dominoes” after being pushed by other people in a narrow alley outside the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said some people shouted “Help me!” and others were suffocated. Kim said he was trampled by other people for about an hour and a half before he was rescued, according to Seoul’s Hankyoreh newspaper.

Another survivor, identified as Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men start pushing others before one or two began to fall one after the other at the start of the stampede, the newspaper reported.

The stampede was the worst disaster since 304 people, mostly high school students, died when a ferry sank in April 2014. The sinking revealed lax safety regulations and regulatory failures, as the culprit was excessive and poorly secured cargo and a poorly prepared emergency crew. Friday’s stampede is likely to draw public criticism of government officials for what they have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

Crowds during the Halloween festival in Seoul
Partygoers walk past ambulances at the scene where dozens of people were injured in a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul, South Korea, on October 29, 2022.


Television footage and photos showed ambulances lined up in the streets amid a heavy police presence and paramedics carrying victims on stretchers. Emergency personnel and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying on the streets. In one section, paramedics were seen checking on a dozen or more people who lay motionless under blue blankets.

In an interview with YTN news channel, Hwang Min-hyuk, one of the visitors to Ithaewon, said it was shocking to see the rows of bodies lying on the alley outside the Hamilton Hotel. He said emergency responders were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to victims lying in the streets. People were crying next to the bodies, he said.

Another man in his 20s said he escaped being trampled because he luckily ran into a bar whose door was open in an alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s, surnamed Park, told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the alley, while the others ended up in the middle.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol issued a statement calling on officials to provide emergency aid to victims and review security at holiday venues. He also instructed the Ministry of Health to quickly deploy medical teams and provide beds in a nearby hospital to treat the injured.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued emergency text messages urging people in the area to return home as soon as possible.

“Jill and I extend our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul,” President Biden said in a statement Saturday night. “We mourn together with the people of the Republic of Korea and wish a speedy recovery to all the victims. The alliance between our two countries has never been stronger and more vital, and the bonds between our peoples are stronger than ever. The United States stands by the Republic of Korea at this tragic time.”

South Korea has had deadly stampedes in the past. In 2005, 11 people were killed and about 60 injured in a stampede at a pop concert in the southern city of Sanju. In 1992, a teenage girl died and dozens of others were injured during a stampede at a concert by American pop group New Kids on the Block in Seoul.