In 2019, Hannah Lee, a school scholar from a suburb of Seoul, advised her household that she was heading to the vigorous Itaewon neighborhood to have fun Halloween.
Lee, now 23, was curious to see fellow younger Koreans dressed as zombies. Elder relations had been puzzled.
“All asked: Why?” she recalled. “They think it’s a foreign culture. It’s not even a Korean thing.”
Though she had considered returning to Itaewon this Halloween weekend, remembering the scale of the group alongside the slim and sometimes steep roads and stairways of the hip, hilly nightlife district was sufficient to swear off going once more this 12 months, the primary because the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I heard 100,000 [were] coming, I thought it would be dangerous.”
Lee was one of many lucky younger Seoul residents who didn’t witness or fall sufferer to the horrors of the Seoul Halloween stampede Saturday evening that resulted within the deaths of greater than 150 partygoers, most of them of their 20s and 30s, and injured greater than 130.
The lifeless, 98 of them ladies and not less than 4 of them youngsters, had been trapped and crushed in a crowd surge. A minimum of 20 had been foreigners from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere. Two Americans were among those killed, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul tweeted Sunday morning.
Some witnesses and specialists say that the cultural hole between a youthful era influenced by social media and Western traditions and their elders, a few of whom outright sneer at such exterior affect, might assist clarify why authorities failed to supply enough safety to assist management the large crowds which have taken to packing Itaewon, residence of lots of the hottest nightclubs and bars in Seoul, on the Halloween weekend.
“It’s the government negligence, especially from local authorities. There wasn’t … ambulance duty. If you’re planning a party of 100,000 coming, you got to have ambulances, etc. There was none of that,” stated Torsten Ingvaldsen, 28, a music enterprise skilled who survived the catastrophe. “This [party] is routine. This happens every October in Itaewon. It’s been happening for over a decade.”
The Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper stories that solely 137 law enforcement officials had been on the scene at Itaewon. For a BTS live performance this month that attracted 55,000 to the town of Busan — about half the quantity that had been anticipated at Itaewon — some 1,300 law enforcement officials had been assigned, along with 2,700 safety officers, volunteers and others who managed the group, in keeping with a report from Newsis, a Korean information company.
Minister of the Inside and Security Lee Sang-min in a briefing Sunday, in keeping with Hankyoreh, stated extra police wouldn’t have made a distinction. He added that extra officers had been unavailable because of their monitoring protests elsewhere within the metropolis.
But the variety of law enforcement officials at Itaewon far paled in contrast with the 1000’s generally assigned to protests, stated Alex Taek-Gwang Lee, a professor at Kyung Hee College.
“They thought the event at Itaewon isn’t as important, but the tragedy happened here,” Lee stated. “Without considering and understanding the cultural and generational gap, public safety can be shaken.”
Halloween celebrations started gaining recognition in South Korea within the early 2000s, as extra kids grew to become conversant in the Western custom whereas attending English-language faculties and kindergarten. Such faculties employed native English audio system from the US and elsewhere, who taught trick-or-treat customs to Korean youngsters. Itaewon, subsequent to a longtime, now largely closed, main U.S. navy base and nonetheless residence to many overseas residents, appeared a pure place to go trick-or-treating, Lee stated.
As these youngsters grew to become adults, social media platforms boosted Halloween’s recognition, with many sharing pictures of themselves in costumes in Itaewon. More and more, on-line streamers additionally broadcast reside from the streets, stated Grace Shin, a reporter at Arirang TV in Seoul.
“More and more people are exposed to what’s happening during Halloween, and you’re seeing people in makeup and matching outfits,” Shin stated. “You can pay $7 to get what looks like a big scar on your face. People would update their social media with #Itaewon or #ItaewonHalloween, which makes more people want to get it.”
Stacy Nam, who works as a producer within the leisure trade, had gone to Itaewon yearly for Halloween till across the mid-2010s. In contrast to Christmas and Valentine’s Day, that are family- or couples-oriented, Halloween is a day when you’ll be able to have enjoyable with your mates, she stated.
“Normally, strangers don’t make conversations with each other, but Itaewon being more of a Western environment, you feel more free to express yourself,” stated Nam, who’s in her 30s. “It’s a different kind of energy than other hot spots in Seoul.”
By the mid-2010s, Nam stated, she started venturing elsewhere for Halloween as a result of Itaewon acquired so crowded. This 12 months, she went to Apgujeong, a vibrant neighborhood by itself however much less packed than Itaewon.
“When I look at the people going out — I’ve seen friends going to Itaewon — it was like, are you OK putting yourself through that?” Nam stated.
However Nam is much from blaming those that went to Itaewon. The federal government is aware of, or ought to have recognized, that Itaewon on holidays is “crazy,” she stated.
“Everyone is just really stunned at the loss of life, and how something like this could happen in an environment where overcrowding has been known to happen on this holiday for years,” she stated. “Why was not more responsibility taken? Why wasn’t there extra manpower taken on hand?”
In any case, the warning indicators had been there.
In 2019, a report from Seoul-based Hankook Ilbo was headlined: “Halloween Holy Land? How Itaewon’s Halloween Became ‘Hell.’”
“Couples showed up in Joker makeup. A man wore a North Korean military outfit. A family dressed as dinosaurs,” the report learn. “By 9 p.m., Itaewon’s Halloween hit its climax. The narrow streets were so filled that walking was difficult. It took 30 minutes to walk 200 meters.”
Within the wake of the tragedy, Nam can’t assist however draw comparability to the Sewol ferry catastrophe in 2014, which killed greater than 300 and drew Koreans’ anger towards what they noticed as an insufficient response from their authorities
“You think there’s obviously a plan and action,” she stated. “You are watching the tragedy that did not have to happen unfold.”
The Related Press contributed to this report.