South Korea’s prime minister and police admit Halloween failures

South Korea’s police chief confessed “great responsibility” for failing to prevent a crowd surge that killed more than 150 people during Halloween festivities in Seoul, saying officers didn’t efficiently handle previous emergency calls. The South Korean government is under increasing public scrutiny over whether the crowd surge Saturday night in Seoul’s Itaewon area could have been stopped and who should accept responsibility for the country’s greatest disaster in years.

Statement on the incident

Yoon Hee Keun, chairman of the Korean National Police Agency, said he felt “huge responsibility” for the incident. Police will try to prevent a similar disaster. South Koreans are seeking answers after Halloween’s tragedy. Yoon said an initial examination indicated that numerous individuals warned authorities about a mob gathering in Itaewon, but officers didn’t respond adequately. Yoon said police have initiated an internal investigation into how officers handled emergency calls and responded to the crowd surge in Itaewon that night. At least 156 individuals died in a downward, small alley in Itaewon. Witnesses reported people collapsing, having trouble breathing, and passing out. Rescuers and ambulances couldn’t access the crowded alleys because Itaewon was filled with slow-moving automobiles and Halloween partygoers.

According to NPR, President Yoon Suk Yeol acknowledged Tuesday that South Korea lacks crowd management research. He suggested utilizing drones and other high-tech tools to regulate crowds. Soon, specialists will convene to examine national safety guidelines, he said.  This is South Korea’s deadliest accident since the 2014 ferry sinking, which exposed lax safety laws and regulatory shortcomings. Saturday’s crowd influx has prompted doubts about South Korea’s disaster prevention efforts.

Police report

Police formed a 475-member task squad after the Itaewon disaster. Why Itaewon was filled before the tragic crowd surge.
Senior police officer Nam Gu-Jun said Monday that officers are studying videos from 50 security cameras and social media. Nam said police have examined 40 witnesses and survivors. Saturday’s Halloween festivities required 137 cops, compared to 34-90 before the outbreak. Some observers doubted 137 officers could handle the 100,000 people in Itaewon on Saturday. 7,000 police officers were moved to another part of Seoul earlier Saturday to oversee rival protests with tens of thousands of people. 137 officers were dispatched to Itaewon to monitor crime, including narcotics use, not crowd control, said to police.

29 injured people are in critical condition, therefore the death toll could grow. 26 foreigners from Iran, China, Russia, the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere died. President Yoon demanded that overseas victims’ families receive the same government help as South Korean victims. He thanked international leaders for their condolences. Itaewon, noted for its expat-friendly, cosmopolitan culture, is the country’s best place for Halloween-themed events and parties. Saturday’s celebration in Itaewon was the largest since the outbreak began. Itaewon’s Halloween celebrations are unofficial. South Korean police say they have no procedures for addressing crowd surges at unorganized events.

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