Itaewon emergency calls raised the alarm in the early hours of the night

Itaewon emergency calls raised the alarm in the early hours of the night
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TOKYO — Desperate pleas for help came in at 6:34 p.m., hours before unconscious bodies lined a main street in Seoul’s Itaewon district after a massive stampede.

“There’s a lot of people in this alley, I’m really worried,” the caller said. “I think people might be overwhelmed. I barely escaped, but there are many people. I think you should intervene.”

Over the next few hours, more people would arrive in that alley, and the guests would be too full to move their fingers and toes. At least 156 people died and at least 157 were injured in the bloodiest incident of recent years in the country.

South Korean police admitted crowd control was “inadequate” before the crush

Transcripts of about 11 emergency calls released Tuesday show growing desperation and repeated warnings from guests over at least four hours before the crush turned fatal. They asked emergency workers to intervene and control the crowd.

At 8:09 p.m., the caller gave detailed instructions about where the crowd was gathering. “There are a lot of people here. … It’s crazy. People are suffering.”

At 21:00: “There were too many people. A big accident will happen at any moment. Everyone is stressed. You have to come and control this crowd.”

At 9:51 p.m.: “There are so many people that I think we need to manage the crowd. … If possible, would you please hurry? … It feels very dangerous right now.”

At 10:11 p.m.: “Here we are about to be crushed. It’s chaos… [audible screams]. In Itaevon, on the back road. In Itaevon, on a back road.”

According to eyewitness videos, emergency personnel cordoned off the alley around 11 p.m. South Korean media reported that it took longer than expected for responders to reach the wreckage due to heavy traffic in the area.

Transcripts capture the chaos of the scene and corroborate what some eyewitnesses said that the area had been disturbingly crowded since the evening hours. Many visitors and members of the public have criticized the police presence in the area.

South Korea is dealing with the trauma of Halloween crowds

South Korea’s police chief, Yoon Hee-geun, said on Tuesday that crowd control in the Itaewon area, where the raid took place, was “inadequate”.

About 100,000 people a night were expected in the neighborhood on Halloween weekend. Only 137 local police were deployed to the area – one in every 730 people – whose main role was to focus on petty crime, drugs and sexual and physical violence.

In a briefing, Yoon said there were emergency calls from the area before the crush, and later warned that a large number of people had gathered on the narrow street where the wave hit. According to him, independent investigators within the agency determine whether the response to those calls was sufficient.

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