Nov 1, 2022 - World

South Korean officials apologize for Halloween crowd surge

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol lays a flower at a makeshift memorial

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol lays a flower at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the deadly Halloween crowd surge on Nov. 1. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

A number of South Korean officials offered public apologies on Tuesday for the tragic Halloween crowd surge in Seoul's Itaewon district that killed more than 150 people.

Driving the news: In the face of growing public criticism that the tragedy could have been prevented, National police chief Yoon Hee Keun apologized and admitted that police had failed to adequately respond calls from citizens warning them of the dangers of the large crowd gathering, the Korea Times reported.

  • "We have confirmed that there was a surge of calls over the serious situation just before the incident," Yoon told reporters Tuesday. "The urgent calls were about the dangers of a big crowd in the area."
  • Yoon responded to criticism that not enough officers were at the scene by saying that police had deployed more officers to the site than they had in the pre-pandemic years.
  • About 137 officers were dispatched to handle the 100,000 person crowd on Saturday, with most assigned to watch for crime — not crowd control, AP reported.

What they're saying: "The action of the police was insufficient," Yoon said, announcing that police would conduct an investigation into whether both the calls and the on-site response were handled properly, the Korea Herald reported.

  • South Korea's Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min also apologized during a parliamentary session Tuesday, saying, "I deeply apologize to the people as a Cabinet member in a position to be infinitely responsible for the people's safety," per the Korea Times.
  • Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon also apologized and promised to work toward creating better public safety measures.

Opposition parties have sharply criticized the government in the wake of the accident.

  • “It was blatantly predictable that something like this could happen with more than 100,000 people gathering,” South Korea's Democratic Party said in a statement, the Korea Herald reported.
  • “As the victims cried for help, there was no law enforcement in Itaewon to protect them. Where were the police? What were the public officials doing?" the statement added.

The big picture: The death toll from the crowd surge has risen to 156 with another 151 people injured. The death count could continue to grow as 29 people remain in critical condition, per Reuters.

  • South Korea has declared a week of national mourning through Saturday.
  • President Yoon Suk-yeol visitied a memorial site to the victims on both Monday and Tuesday, writing in a condolence book, "my sadness and grief are beyond my control. I will do my best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening ever again," per the Korea Times.
  • "We should come up with concrete safety measures to manage crowds, not only on these streets where this massive disaster took place but at other places like stadiums and concert venues where large crowds gather," Yoon said at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Reuters reported.
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