SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — An Australian survivor of a crowd crush that killed more than 150 partygoers in the South Korean capital of Seoul blamed the huge loss of life on officials’ failure to employ effective crowd controls despite anticipating a massive turnout for the Halloween celebrations.
Nathan Taverniti, 24, said he’s still grappling with emotional shock after one of his friends died during the tragedy Saturday at the nightlife district of Itaewon. The tragedy centered on a narrow, downhill alley running between a dense row of store fronts and the landmark Hamilton Hotel. The path became clogged by a huge wave of partygoers before some fell and toppled over one another like dominoes, according to witnesses, before suffocating to death.
An estimated 100,000 partygoers flocked to Itaewon for the Halloween celebrations over the weekend, and some experts say it should have been an obvious decision for authorities to temporarily block some of the neighborhood’s notoriously narrow lanes and hills.
“If the government knows that there were going to be that many people there, and there is going to be road blockages, there should be enough police and emergency services already there on standby,” Taverniti said.
Stuck in a huge crowd, Taverniti said he didn’t sense that something terrible would happen until some women near him apparently slipped and fell down, and people nearby tried to help them back up. By that time, he could no longer seen where his three friends were.
“All of a sudden more people started falling … there were just too many people,” he said.
He said he thought he saw some of his friends’ hands among the people who were piling up. He tried to grab them, but had to let go after being crushed by the enormous weight of other people who were losing balance. He said he heard “lots of people screaming.”
Taverniti said he shouted to the bars and clubs to open their doors to let some people in to ease the crowd, but that nobody listened. He said several police officers arrived about half an hour later and people in the crowd helped pull out those who were injured before more officers arrived later. He later found one of his friends among the rows of unconscious bodies laid out in the pavement.
Tavernit was able to locate his two other friends being treated at hospitals. He says he plans to stay in Seoul for a bit longer to ensure the steady recovery of his hospitalized friends.
“I believe 100% that this incident is a result of the government’s mismanagement and the lack of ability because I have known that Halloween event has always been this big in Itaewon,” he said. “This year there was clearly not enough police presence.”
AP writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to the report.