People fell ‘like dominoes’: Death toll reaches 154 after Halloween crowd surge in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea — Witnesses in South Korea described a “hell-like chaos” after 154 people died from being crushed by a crowd on a narrow street during a Halloween celebration in Seoul on Saturday.

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As of early Monday, officials said there were also 149 people injured, according to The Associated Press. The country’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety said the death count could rise because 33 of the injured victims were in serious condition.

Here are the latest updates:

Death toll rises to at least 154

Update 7:10 a.m. EDT Oct. 31: The death toll has risen to 154 after Saturday’s deadly crowd surge in Seoul, the South Korean government said Monday morning.

According to the AP, officials have identified all but one of the dead. Women made up nearly two-thirds of the victims killed, authorities said.

At least 33 of the other 149 people injured in the incident are in serious condition, the AP reported.

– Michelle Ewing, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Georgia native one of the victims in deadly crowd surge

Update 9:13 p.m. EDT Oct. 30: Steven Blesi, a student from Kennesaw State and Marietta native, is one of the 153 victims in the deadly Halloween crowd surge in South Korea, according to WSB-TV. Blesi was an international business major and was one of 11 students from KSU in South Korea as part of a study abroad program. All other KSU students are reported safe, the station reported.

“On behalf of the entire Kennesaw State community, our thoughts and prayers go out to Steven’s family and friends as they mourn this incomprehensible loss,” said Kennesaw State University President Kathy Schwaig. “We have been in contact with Steven’s family and have offered all available resources of the University to them.”

- Jeff MacDonald, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

University of Kentucky student among 2 Americans dead

Update 3:44 p.m. EDT Oct. 30: Two Americans are among the dead, the U.S. embassy in South Korea confirmed on Sunday. One of those Americans is Anne Gieske, a nursing student from the University of Kentucky studying abroad in Seoul, according to WDKY-TV.

University president Eli Capilouto confirmed that Gieske, a nursing junior from northern Kentucky, was studying abroad in South Korea when she died at the Halloween festivities in Seoul.

Gieske, 20, was a Fort Mitchell resident and a Beechwood High School graduate, WXIX-TV reported.

Original report: Officials said 97 of the dead were women, while 56 were men, according to the news outlet. In a news release, the Interior Ministry said at least 20 of the dead are from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere. There is one American among the dead, the agency said.

An estimated 100,000 people, many wearing costumes, had gathered in the Itaewon leisure district on Saturday night, The Guardian reported. It was the first time in three years that there had been a live Halloween party due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Choi Cheon-sik, an official with South Korea’s National Fire Agency, said the crowd began pushing near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party venue in Seoul, according to the AP.

Witnesses said the crowd surge caused people to fall on each other “like dominoes.”

“I still can’t believe what has happened. It was like a hell,” Kim Mi Sung, an official at a nonprofit organization that promotes tourism in Itaewon, told the AP.

Kim told the news organization that she performed CPR on 10 unconscious people and nine of them were declared dead on the spot.

The Itaewon district in Seoul is noted for its narrow streets and alleys that are crammed with bars and other businesses, the BBC reported. The area has been featured in several K-dramas and K-pop songs, such as “Itaewon Class,” which appeared on Netflix in 2020, according to the news outlet.

Witnesses said the streets in the district were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was nearly impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley quickly, the AP reported.

Jen Moon, chief editor at Arirang TV in Seoul, told the BBC that it was unclear what started the stampede.

“There seems to not have been one triggering moment,” Moon told the news outlet.

South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday declared a state of official national mourning during a live address, according to The Guardian.

“As president, who is responsible for the people’s lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief,” Yoon said. “The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning and will place top priority on administrative affairs in recovery and follow-up measures.”

In a statement, President Joe Biden extended his sympathies on behalf of himself and first lady Jill Biden.

“We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured,” Biden said. “The alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital -- and the ties between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time.”

The national mourning period will run through Saturday, ABC News reported.