First Emergency Call Came Hours Before The Itaewon Crush
First emergency call came hours before the Itaewon crushas it was reported that a call was made at 18:34 local time before the deadly crush. The caller said that an alley near to the Hamilton hotel was become extremely packed as they were on the main route leading to Itaewon.
"That alley is really dangerous right now people going up and down, so people can't come down, but people keep coming up, it's gonna be crushed. I barely made it to get out but it's too crowded. I think you should control it," the caller said.
The police officer asked if the caller meant that people weren't flowing well, that "they get crushed and fall, and then there's going to be a big accident?"
Yes, the caller responded - "this is so chilling right now".
At least 10 calls to the police were made in the following three hours in Seoul, the nation's capital. However, locals claim that night's police presence was completely insufficient.
Numerous government apologies, experts, and mounting evidence point to obvious failings. The local authorities and police just weren't ready for the multitudes that had collected, and they found it difficult to control them once they arrived.
The police chief in South Korea earlier on Tuesday acknowledged that their emergency response had been "inadequate," marking the first time that officials had admitted that they had not done enough to stop it.
According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of people celebrated Halloween in Itaewon, a city known for its nightlife. Even for the often active neighborhood, it was a shocking figure.
About 300 meters from the scene of the crush, Jeong An-sook lives in Itaewon two blocks back from the main thoroughfare. She attempted to leave between 21:00 and 22:00 local time, but she claimed she was unable to move because of the huge crowd in her street. She retreated to her house out of fear.
A restaurant owner who arrived home at 22:00 local time reported that Itaewon station was so congested that he was unable to even leave. He then changed stations and returned home in a circle.
Another woman, a money changer, who was selling flowers for people to lay down at the improvised shrine to the victims, reported seeing few police officers. She claimed that local volunteers, not the police, had been trying to organize the throng earlier in the evening.
She added that the neighborhood business group had asked the police for assistance last week in managing the weekend crowds but had not received it.
We now know that the neighborhood council, Yongsan-gu, had two sessions. On October 26, the nearby business association, local police, and the head of the nearest metro station participated in the first meeting. The following day, a second meeting was held only for council staff to discuss how to organize the Halloween celebrations that would take place over the weekend.
They reviewed garbage collection, unlawful parking, food vendor inspection, safety at large events, and subway station safety, according to the Yongsan district website. On October 27, district mayor Park Hee-young said:
This is the first Halloween in three years without social distancing. We will do everything we can to ensure the safety of residents as we are concerned about the renewed spread of Covid-19, drug incidents and other accidents.- District mayor Park Hee-young
There is no proof that anyone mentioned or talked about potential crowd management issues at either meeting.
The Global Village festival, which highlighted Itaewon's international flair, was held earlier in October, local companies informed the BBC. The council planned it and had a crowd management strategy in place.
However, following the incident, Mayor Park told local media that while the Yongsan council had done everything it could, the Halloween activities were unique due to the lack of a single organizer. Since then, she has expressed regret to the relatives of the victims.
The reality remains that no one prevented hundreds of people, most of whom were in their teens or 20s, from gathering in the slanted alley that night, despite the ongoing finger-pointing among officials. According to experts, once that occurred, it was almost hard to stop what followed next.
They were confined by the narrowness, and because of the slope, when one fell, it set off a chain reaction that affected all the others. Along with traveling in multiple directions at once, people were shoving and shoving to get away from the crowd.
Police are looking into accusations that some people in the throng yelled "push, push" to start the crush, but experts believe that was to be anticipated from what they describe a "abnormal crowd."
According to Baek Seung-joo, a fire safety professor at Open Cyber University, any area with more than five people per square meter is thought to be potentially dangerous; there were at least ten individuals per square meter in that alley. He claims that he based his estimation on pictures and video.
Instinctively, in such a situation, people don't help each other, they compete and don't follow orders. You can't blame the young people who pushed others when they were under extreme pressure. The authorities are responsible for failing to control the crowd in advance.- Baek Seung-joo, a fire safety professor at Open Cyber University
Officials and experts now think that the alley's proximity to the busy Itaewon subway station was a factor in why there were so many people there.
Kwon Seolah, director of the Chungbuk University Center for Disaster Safety Innovation, believes that authorities might have assured that subway trains avoided Itaewon station or barred automobiles from entering the area to create more room for pedestrians.
But the failure is attributed to the officials themselves. According to the national police, in order to reduce the crowds on Saturday, they requested that trains not stop at Itaewon station from the Seoul City Metro. The Metro has refuted this, claiming that it didn't get a formal request until one hour after the fatal crush.
The local business group disputes the Yongsan police's claim that local establishments begged them not to manage the crowds on weekends so as not to lose business. However, it becomes obvious that the police did not implement even the most basic crowd management procedures that can be found in other places.
In the initial call to the police, made hours before any fatalities were reported, the severity of the situation was clear.
"No one is controlling it right now," the caller said. "The police has to control this. You should let people out first and then let people in. People keep pouring in but they can't get out."