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South Korean crowd crush reintroduces questions of safety

Across the world in the heart of South Korea’s Itaewon district, at least 156 people are dead after a crowd crush during weekend celebrations, two days before Halloween. Many of the victims were young adults in their 20s and 30s.

South Koreans and families are mourning the tragedy as officials continue to investigate what caused the disaster.

Itaewon is known as a famous nightlife district located in the center of Seoul. Just like the rest of the city, narrow alleys and streets wind through the district.

The district feels like a different country, where many foreign restaurants and shops are located. Bars and clubs are scattered through, with crowds often staying late into the night.

It’s a popular hangout spot and an area that is used to seeing large amounts of people.

That includes the annual Halloween celebrations that bring in tens of thousands of people from both South Korea and international communities.

However, those festivities disappeared for a few years as the country sharply limited any gatherings due to fear of the pandemic. That’s what made this year’s celebrations special.

It was one of the first times South Korea has opened up for a large party and gathering without heavy limitations since the pandemic began.

This led to a larger than expected crowd to appear in Itaewon. It’s estimated that there were over 100,000 people at Itaewon that Saturday.

With so many people crammed into the alleys, partygoers reported being crushed against the walls of the alley and barely being able to breathe, as people continued pouring into the crowd.

Aside from the estimated 156 people who died, at least 149 others were injured in the crowd crush. Of those dead, nearly two-thirds were women and over 100 of the victims were in their 20s, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.

In an interview with ABC, experts say that women are often particularly vulnerable in “crowd turbulence” because they are often shorter and less physically strong than men.

The disaster has brought a lot of attention to South Korean officials and government on whether the event was properly handled. They are facing a lot of scrutiny on whether or not there was enough preparation for the event.

In a press release, the Ministry of Interior and Safety has declared a special period of mourning until Nov. 5. They have also stated that they will review and come up with better guidelines to make sure the event will never happen again.

There was no statement on what went wrong to cause the crowd crush.

This isn’t the first time a tragic event has caused a review of policy that needed to be changed.

In 2014, the Sewol ferry sank at the southern coast of South Korea killing over 300 people. In 1995, a department store collapsed killing over 500 people.

Scrutiny of the country’s lack of infrastructure safety and recurring disasters emerged after every tragic event. These questions now arise once again as people question why the country is so behind on respecting human rights.

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