This morning, I was shaken awake when I lazily lifted my phone from its position on the floor to check the time. Uncharacteristically, my notification wall was full of different friends reaching out to check on me.
Are you alright?
Were you in Itaewon last night?
Did you hear about Itaewon?
And one missed call from a friend 30 minutes prior.
What the fuck was happening? I called my friend back, and she confirmed that the crowds in Itaewon for the Halloween party had created a stampede that killed over 100 people and injured at least 50. I scrolled through the news and messages of other friends, confirming the same story. I reached out to as many friends as possible, especially those who lived in Itaewon, and thankfully, no one I knew was injured or passed away. But the event shook a lot of people and left most of those present traumatized.
Itaewon is a well-known district in Seoul. It’s sometimes called the ‘foreigner district’ because the community in that area is largely populated by foreigners. International festivals are held there, and it’s famous for its variety of foods from all over the world. Therefore, many travelers and Koreans can go there and enjoy international cuisine from its restaurants, cafes, and niche international markets not usually found in general chain Korean grocery stores.
During the Korean War, a lot of US and other allied soldiers were based in Itaewon (the area itself is known as Yongsan). It still remains a very foreigner-friendly area due to its roots. In fact, the US military base was established there for a while. There’s also a variety of bars and clubs too, so young people both foreign and Korean enjoy going to Itaewon on the weekends to drink and socialize.
Halloween in Itaewon
Itaewon is not only known for its great food and bars but it’s also known as a very popular place for people to gather for Halloween. Hongdae is another popular area among it, but Itaewon is a very specific location that many like to go to celebrate. People dress up, go to clubs and bars, and generally outside is extremely crowded. Every year the streets are packed. During the height of COVID-19, Halloween wasn’t really a thing in Itaewon due to the high infection possibility. There were even xenophobic remarks made about Itaewon spreading COVID-19 faster.
Regardless, I’d been to Itaewon plenty of times with my friends both during the day and at night. Ironically, I chose not to go for Halloween this year because I had a feeling due to the lowered gathering restrictions that it would be absolute chaos. I live about 30 or so minutes by subway, but the subway doesn’t run all night. So, if you want to enjoy the nightlife, you either have to end your time early, take a taxi, or crash at some nearby Airbnb or hotel. I had a bad feeling that finding a taxi was going to be especially hell that night, and I didn’t want to deal with the possible crowds of people who’d likely get sick on the sidewalks and make the whole experience chaotic.
A lot of people had some hesitations about going, and they weren’t unfounded. The crowds were uncontrollable, and there weren’t enough preventative crowd control police there, resulting in people being trampled upon and crushed. About 100,000 people were there that night, and without any kind of realistic control, people were trampled over and suffered cardiac arrest from the massive crowd. A lot of medical personnel had a hard time coming through to perform CPR on a number of victims, and Seoul City even set up a missing persons hotline because so many people were trapped due to lack of transportation. All of the people who had passed were in their teens and 20s, and people are still trying to contact their loved ones to check if they were the ones who were injured or killed during the incident.
Preventative Measures & Aftermath
Hopefully, some kind of vigil for the victims will be held, and people are already setting aside flowers in the area where the tragedy occurred. The president also announced there would be some kind of memorial. A lot of disturbing footage is being shared on social media, and my heart goes out to the locals in the community and those who were injured and the young lives lost. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, and it makes me even more concerned about why our world tends to be so reactionary with these things rather than preventative. Although there will always be accidents and things that are unpredictable, everyone in Seoul is aware of the yearly Halloween celebration in Itaewon.
Every year it’s crowded to the highest extent.
Every year it has massive traction, and this year so many people suspected it would be worse than in previous years. So, why weren’t more personnel present to begin with? Why weren’t there more on-call when everyone knew this year would be even crazier? Why is it that so many safety measures are only considered after something tragic happens? It’s incredibly frustrating.
Regardless, I’m grateful for the medical personnel, for the bystandards who stepped in to help with CPR, and how everyone who has been checking in on their loved ones after seeing the news and sharing resources. I hope that more chances to help the community heal come about and a fund is set up to help the families of those who lost their loved ones that night. I’m incredibly lucky that I was not there that night and even luckier that no one I knew was there that night and was harmed.
No matter where we live in the world, and no matter where we come from, it’s essential that we take care of ourselves and each other as a community. This tragedy could’ve been prevented with more police present. Please take care of yourselves and stay safe. Below is further reading on the event, and exercise caution when searching about the event on social media, as a lot of imagery and videos are very triggering and disturbing.
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