The Itaewon Halloween crowd crush

Dennis Gorecho - Kuwentong Peyups

Days before the deadly crowd crush incident, I walked every night around the neighborhood of Itaewon to explore the so-called party hub of Seoul.

After attending the Asian Patent Attorneys Association (APAA) conference in Busan, we proceeded to Seoul and stayed at the G Guesthouse in Itaewon for almost a week.

The area is studded with vintage shops, restaurants, pubs inspired by Western countries, and nightclubs along its steeply sloping and twisted alleyways on either side of the main road.

It is beyond my imagination that at least 150 people will die of cardiac arrest on Saturday night, October 29, as Halloween revelers crushed their way into a small alley leading to the main party area.

The tragedy occurred during Seoul’s first Halloween festivities in three years.

Some 100,000 people were estimated to have passed through the neighborhood excited about the prospect of partying again after two years of strict Covid restrictions in the country.

It was about 10:20 p.m. (South Korea time) when the situation turned desperate as a number of people in an alley going to the main street fell over, causing a massive crush. Crowds pressing from both ends of the narrow alley caused more difficulty for people to get out.

Among the victims, nearly a hundred were women while over 50 were men, and most were in their 20s and 30s. Another estimated 150 people were injured as partygoers fell and were trampled over by the crowd.

Twenty-six foreign nationals are among the dead, from countries including China, Japan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Norway.

Crowd crush occurs when a group of people is packed so close together that no one can move and they keep pushing, causing the crowd to fall in a “domino effect” making it hard to get up.

A crowd crush is created by the press of human bodies on a central point or points while stampedes are usually created when a crowd starts fleeing from danger or a perceived danger.

The most common injury and death during a crowd crush is “compressive asphyxia”, which occurs when people are pushed against one another so tightly that their airways become constricted.

Cause of death is generally attributed to suffocation as the lungs do not find enough space to expand, making it difficult to breathe. It takes 30 seconds before one loses consciousness, and about six minutes for one to suffer compressive or restrictive asphyxia.

Experts urge those caught in a crush to stay on their feet, adopting a boxer’s stance to maintain balance and keeping hands up by one’s chest to protect breathing space.

One must not to resist the force of the crowd, but instead try to move diagonally to the edge of the crowd when there is a lull in movement. If one falls down, experts advise to curl into a ball to try to protect oneself.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Itaewon was known as a red-light district largely supported by US troops.

But it has reinvented itself as a nightlife hub catering to a large contingent of foreigners and expats, reflecting global influences and values. It became popular as Seoul’s international district with hip lounges, bars, restaurants and cafes modeled after venues in the United States, Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia.

Itaewon became a by-word after Netflix aired the series “Itaewon Class”, which focuses on Se-ro-yi Park (Park Seo-Joon) as a determined character who refuses to take the easy way out of any situation if it means compromising his core values and beliefs.

He became a subject to many ill circumstances and unjust treatment, eventually becoming a target of a powerful family who runs the most successful pub franchise in the country.

After Se-ro-yi was released from jail, he opened up a pub in Itaewon even with the label of ‘ex-convict’ tagged on his back. He put together a loyal team of societal misfits and together they work towards making his ambitious dreams for the pub a reality.

The G Guesthouse where we stayed appeared as ‘Bogwang Kosiwon’ (Bogwang Study Room) in Itaewon Class where Jang Geun-soo (Kim Dong-hee) lives. This building was seen in a part where Park Seo Joon slaps the District Head’s wife.

Itaewon Class also showed the more liberal societal attitudes with regard to sexuality as the neighborhood includes transgender or gay clubs, in a country where homosexuality remains a taboo.

Lee Joo-young plays transgender chef Ma Hyun-yi. An attempt to undermine the pub who uses her gender history against her, the story has emphasized the courage required for transgender individuals to claim the gender they feel most comfortable in.

An episode of Itaewon Class showed what a Halloween night out looks like in the neighborhood, with the main characters dressed up in costumes and heavy makeup to look like a vampire and clown.

Let us pray for the souls of those who died at the Itaewon Halloween crush.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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