‘Artifical catastrophe’: Officers criticized over Seoul deaths


SEOUL, South Korea — Seoul police assigned 137 officers to handle a crowd of Halloween revelers anticipated to quantity over 100,000 over the weekend — a call that has come beneath intense criticism following the deaths of more than 150 people when the group surged.

By comparability, almost 7,000 law enforcement officials have been despatched to a different a part of the South Korean capital on Saturday to watch dueling protests that drew tens of 1000’s however nonetheless fewer folks than flocked to the popular nightlife district of Itaewon the identical night time. Even the duty drive created to analyze why the gang surged, with 475 members, is extra 3 times bigger than the element assigned to crowd management.

As South Korea mourns, officers are dealing with robust questions on preparations for the celebrations and calls for for accountability within the wake of the nation’s worst catastrophe in almost a decade.

The nationwide authorities has insisted there was no technique to predict the gang would get uncontrolled.

Specialists disagree. Deploying so few law enforcement officials, they stated, confirmed officers have been poorly ready regardless of realizing forward of time that there could be an enormous gathering following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in current months.

On high of assigning extra personnel, police and officers within the Yongsan district, which governs Itaewon, ought to have pedestrianized some streets and brought different measures to ease the crowding in slim lanes just like the one the place the deaths occurred, specialists stated.

As a substitute, the 137 officers in Itaewon have been assigned to watch crime, with a specific give attention to narcotics use, which means that for all sensible functions “nobody was taking care of pedestrian security,” stated Kong Ha-song, a catastrophe prevention professor at South Korea’s Woosuk College.

The deaths must be seen as a “artifical catastrophe,” stated Lee Changmoo, an city planning professor at Seoul’s Hanyang College.

Authorities have come beneath comparable criticism in nationwide media and on social networks. The headline of an editorial within the Hankyoreh newspaper on Sunday described the tragedy as “all too avoidable.” The paper stated its reporting confirmed {that a} pedestrian acquired knocked down by a crowd in Itaewon a day earlier than Halloween festivities — though nobody was damage.

Saturday’s deaths occurred in a downhill alley working between a dense row of retailer fronts and the landmark Hamilton Lodge. The trail became clogged by a huge throng of partygoers earlier than a few of them fell and toppled over “like dominos,” based on witnesses.

Emergency employees have been so overwhelmed by the variety of folks mendacity immobile on the bottom that they requested pedestrians to assist them with CPR. However Choi Sukjae, an emergency medication specialist and chief spokesperson of the Korean Emergency Medical Affiliation, stated CPR, which ideally must be administered inside a handful of minutes, wouldn’t have made a lot of a distinction in lots of instances for the reason that paramedics have been delayed attending to the scene as a result of the world was so packed.

Kong, the catastrophe prevention professor, stated extra police and authorities employees ought to have been referred to as on to watch potential bottleneck factors. He recommended that the crush might have been prevented if authorities had enforced one-way strolling lanes, blocked entry to some slim pathways, and briefly closed Itaewon’s subway station to forestall an extreme variety of folks transferring in the identical course.

Officers additionally might have additionally briefly closed Itaewon’s essential highway to automobiles, as they did in the course of the annual Itaewon International Village Competition earlier in October, thereby giving folks extra room to unfold out, Kong stated.

Lee, the city planning professor, criticized Inside and Security Minister Lee Sang-min, who claimed, with out elaborating, that having extra police and hearth division personnel on the bottom wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy.

When requested concerning the variety of officers assigned, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Company stated 137 was nonetheless greater than it despatched in 2020 and 2021, excluding items particularly assigned to virus management measures. Police and authorities officers have acknowledged this yr’s crowd was greater — but it surely was not clear by how a lot.

Kong added that the dearth of a central organizer on Saturday — when younger folks flocked to bars and night time golf equipment to have a good time Halloween however there was not one particular occasion promoted — might have contributed to the tragedy.

“Our nation often does an excellent job in following the handbook and sustaining crowd management at occasions the place there’s a selected organizer,” he stated. “However officers are sometimes uncertain what to do and even don’t care about occasions that aren’t created by a selected organizer … though it’s these occasions that often require a better watch.”

Hong Ki-hyeon, a senior official with the nationwide police company, acknowledged that downside throughout a information convention Monday, saying police shouldn’t have a longtime technique to take care of such gatherings.

“In occasions like festivals which have a selected organizer, discussions are made between associated municipalities, police, hearth departments and medical specialists who put together and cooperate beneath totally different roles,” Hong stated. “That’s what we lacked concerning this accident.”

Yongsan district refused to reply questions on preparations. District Mayor Park Hee-young as an alternative stated in a press release Monday that her workplace was deploying “all administrative assets” to help the injured and households of the victims.

Within the two earlier years, the district’s preparations for the Halloween festivities have been centered on stopping the unfold of COVID-19 amongst partygoers. Employees toured bars, eating places and nightclubs to watch whether or not they have been abiding by social distancing guidelines, and checkpoints have been established in crowded areas the place public employees and volunteers took the temperatures of partygoers.

Saturday’s crush was the nation’s greatest catastrophe since 304 folks, largely highschool college students, died in a ferry sinking in April 2014. The sinking uncovered lax security guidelines and regulatory failures.

South Korea has an extended historical past of lethal crowd crushes and stampedes, though none as lethal as Saturday’s. In 2005, 11 folks have been killed and dozens have been injured in a pop live performance throughout a crowd crush within the southern metropolis of Sangju.

In 1960, 31 folks died after being crushed on the steps of a practice station as massive crowds rushed to board a practice in the course of the Lunar New 12 months holidays.

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