Home News Itaewon emergency calls expressed alarm early in the night

Itaewon emergency calls expressed alarm early in the night

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TOKYO — The desperate pleas for help came in as early as 6:34 p.m., several hours before unconscious bodies would be lined up along the main street in Seoul’s Itaewon district after a massive crowd surge.

“There are a lot of people going up and down this alley, I’m very nervous about it,” the caller said. “I think people might be crushed. I barely escaped, but there are too many people. I think you need to intervene.”

Over the next few hours, more people would arrive in that same alley, and partygoers would be packed to the point where they could not even move their fingers and toes. At least 156 people died and at least 157 were injured in the country’s deadliest incident in years.

South Korea admits police crowd control was ‘inadequate’ before crush

Transcripts of about 11 emergency call logs released Tuesday show mounting desperation and repeated warnings from partygoers for at least four hours before the crush turned deadly. They pleaded for emergency personnel to intervene and control the crowd.

At 8:09 p.m., a caller gave detailed directions to where the crowd was gathering. “There are so many people here. … It’s crazy. People are getting hurt.”

At 9 p.m.: “There are too many people. There is about to be a major accident at any moment. Everyone is being pushed. You need to come control this crowd.”

At 9:51 p.m.: “There are so many people, I think there needs to be crowd control. … If possible, could you please hurry? … It feels very dangerous right now.”

At 10:11 p.m.: “Here, we’re about to be crushed. It is chaos … [audible screams]. In Itaewon, in the back road. In Itaewon, in the back road.”

Emergency personnel swarmed the alley by about 11 p.m., according to witness videos. South Korean media reported that because the area was so congested, it took the responders longer than expected to reach the site of the crush.

The transcripts reflect the chaos of that scene and corroborate some witness accounts that the area was worryingly crowded from early on in the evening. Many partygoers and members of the public have criticized the lack of police presence in the area.

South Korea confronts the trauma of the Halloween crowd crush

South Korea’s police chief, Yoon Hee-geun, said Tuesday that crowd control was “inadequate” in the Itaewon area where the crush took place.

About 100,000 people were expected per night in that neighborhood over Halloween weekend. There were just 137 local police officers dispatched to the area — about one for every 730 people — whose primary role was to focus on petty crime, drugs, and sexual and physical abuse.

Yoon said in his briefing that there were emergency calls from the area before the crush, warning of the large number of people gathered in the narrow alleyway where the surge later occurred. Independent investigators within the agency are determining whether the response to those calls was sufficient, he said.

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