At least 149 people died and 78 were injured in the stampede during Halloween celebrations in the capital Seoul, South Korean officials said.

The massive death toll comes after people were crushed by a large crowd that surged forward on a narrow alleyway in Seoul’s Itaewon 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. Earlier on Saturday, the number of injured reached 150 people.

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.

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 on top of each other “like dominoes” after being pushed by other people on a narrow slope near 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.

Rescue workers and firefighters try to save people on a street near the scene of an accident in Seoul, South Korea, early Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. South Korean officials said about 50 people suffered cardiac arrest and some are believed to have died after as they were crushed by a large crowd moving forward on a narrow street during Halloween celebrations in the capital, Seoul. (AP Photo/Lee ​​Jin-man)

Another survivor, in his 20s, said he managed to escape being trampled because he managed to enter 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, and there was no way out for others trapped in the middle of the alley.

Choi, the fire chief, said the bodies were sent to hospitals or gymnasiums where family members could identify them. According to him, most of the dead and injured were in their 20s.

“Terrible news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those who are now in charge and with all South Koreans at this very troubling time.”

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, tweeted that the reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington was “ready to provide any necessary support to the Republic of Korea”.

The latest such deadly disaster in South Korea also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died during the sinking of the ferry. Heating revealed lax safety rules and regulatory failures; this was partly blamed on excessive and poorly secured cargo and a crew poorly prepared for emergencies. Saturday’s death is likely to draw public attention to what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

It was also the second major disaster in Asia in a month. On October 1, the police in Indonesia used tear gas at a football matchresulting in a stampede that killed 132 people as spectators tried to escape.

More than 1,700 first responders from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the injured, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 civil servants. A separate statement from the National Fire Agency said officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol issued a statement calling on officials to provide emergency aid to victims and review security at holiday venues.

It was the deadliest disaster in South Korea’s history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and about 60 injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sanju.