Chaos and confusion in the aftermath of the subway disaster

Police at the scene of the disaster, in which more than 150 people died and over 100 were injured.

Subway employees were trying to control the masses of people at the ticket gates.

Outside, it was already chaos.

I couldn’t move.

Our meeting location was about a minute’s walk from the station, but it took us more than 10 minutes to get there, squeezing through crowds and pop-up stands offering Halloween makeovers.

People were already spilling on to the congested roads. There was no more room on the main road’s pavements.

I don’t remember seeing any crowd control.

Itaewon is mostly one long road stretching east to west, with the station in the middle and the Hamilton hotel above.

Many bars and clubs line a street parallel to the main street, only accessible through a series of narrow alleys.

When we arrived at our destination, there was music, food and performances, and we planned to go to a nearby bar for a second round.

But outside it was chock-ablock and we could not move.

It is all too common to find yourself crammed into a club in Itaewon and unable to move.

But on Saturday night, that seemed to be the case on the streets as well.

So at 10.30pm we decided to take the subway to a more peaceful location.

We began to make our way back to the station.

Many people were forced to walk in the road.

I’d seen Itaewon busy, but never like this.

Then we started hearing fire engines.

Chaos at Itaewon Station as Fire Engine and Ambulance Arrive

They were barely able to move too. A situation was developing near Itaewon station, in front of the Hamilton hotel.

A fire engine and an ambulance had arrived, and two police officers stood on top of their car pleading with people to leave.

People were fleeing the area.

Music was still blaring from every direction, making it difficult to understand what was going on. People were pouring out of the station and others were trying to enter it.

It was chaos.

We began receiving government emergency broadcasts, sent to mobile phones in Yongsan district, advising people to return home as soon as possible due to an emergency situation near the Hamilton hotel.

These alerts are normally sent out in cases of disasters and emergencies.

More police arrived and ordered everyone to leave the area.

I searched the news and social media but found nothing.

Then, in real time, horrifying videos of firefighters performing CPR on dozens of lifeless bodies began to emerge.

It was becoming clear that something terrible had happened. It turned out to be a crowd crush.

Authorities initially reported that 50 people were “in cardiac arrest”, a term often used in South Korea to indirectly describe death before it is confirmed by a doctor.

Horrific images of rows of blue body bags outside the station emerged on social media, making it clear how serious the situation was.

Itaewon: Seoul’s Vibrant Foreign District

Itaewon, in Seoul’s Yongsan district, is synonymous with South Korea’s foreign community and party life.

Until recently it was home to a huge US military base.

It has cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants with cuisines from round the world.

It’s vibrant, full of life and offers a freedom from society’s conservative gaze that few other places in the country do.

This tragedy is affecting so many, and there are still people missing.

It is difficult to find words to describe what has happened.

Everyone has been messaging since last night to check in with one another.

Devastated, I stayed at my friend’s house. His father phoned in the morning when he found out.

“Son, are you safe?” he asked.

So many will not have that privilege, and my heart breaks for them.

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