SEOUL, South Korea – The first desperate call for help, warning of people at risk of being “crushed to death”, arrived on Saturday at 6:34 pm:
nearly four hours before the South Korean authorities declared they had received the initial report of an overwhelming crowd that would kill more than 150 people.
It was the first of 11 calls the government emergency response toll-free number 112 which occurred between then and 10:11 pm, asking the police to take urgent measures to control the crowd.
Subsequent callers reported a “total chaos“, an” out of control “situation and” crushed dead “people, according to transcripts released by lawmakers on Tuesday.
The transcripts on display obvious defects by authorities and contradicted earlier claims by officials that the first crowd swarm report arrived Saturday at 10:15 pm.
This fueled the suspicions the government had tried to raise he cons to the public about how he handled one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters.
The first caller detailed how crowds of people exiting the subway station in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in central Seoul, crowded into a narrow, sloping alley nearby.
At the same time, people were also pressing on the road from the opposite direction, creating a deadly crush.
“It looks like people will be crushed to death,” the caller said.
“I hardly got out myself. There are so many people here that you have to control the crowd.
“I’m so scared,” added the caller.
“Nobody here to check the situation ”.
National Police Chief Yoon Hee-keun admitted on Tuesday that his agency’s handling of 112 emergency calls was “inappropriate”, promising a thorough investigation.
His boss, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, offered the first apologies of government officials for not doing enough to prevent disaster.
“The state’s responsibility for the safety of people is unlimited,” Lee said, bowing during a parliamentary hearing.
“I offer my sincere apologies to the people for the incident.”
So far, the government of the President Yoon Suk-yeol he insisted there was a limit to how he could aggressively control the spontaneous crowds of partygoers on the Halloween weekend in Itaewon.
The holidays of Halloween are not official events registered with the authorities that the police must discuss and, if necessary, provide security measures such as crowd control, they said.
On Saturday night, at least tens of thousands of rowdy young Koreans, finally freed from the restrictions of the pandemic, flocked to Itaewon to celebrate Halloween.
The police had only assigned 137 officers, and most of them were ordered not to lead the crowd of people, but to watch for similar crimes sexual harassment, theft and drug use.
But the transcripts show that, call after desperate call, people have warned of a major disaster unfolding and urged authorities to step in, control the crowds and send rescuers.
They corroborated witness accounts that crowd pressure was getting fatal hours before authorities declared they had received the first report.
“There are so many people that there is a bottleneck. It’s total chaos with people pushing each other, ”a caller said at 8:09 pm.
“People fall and get hurt. It’s chaos. They should do something.
“There are people on the street and it’s out of control,” another caller said at 8:33 pm.
“This is serious and I’m not kidding.”
At 9 pm a caller reported:
“There are so many people we’re going to have a accident important. They should come and check the situation.
To “We are in the middle of a Halloween festival and people are being crushed to death,” a caller said at 9:10 pm.
The emergency responders on the line said they would send agents.
The closest government fire station was only about 200 meters down the alley.
The nearest police station was only 130 meters away.
But witnesses and survivors told the media, including New York Timesthat he had seen few officers on the spot to control the crowd.
When the crush went deadly in the packed alley, it was difficult for officers to reach victims in the crowd, according to smartphone footage posted by witnesses.
The first firefighters and government rescuers finally reached the scene of the crushed crowd at 22:29 E
They found a tangle of lying victims one over the other.
“It took a long time to get them out and move them for emergency relief,” said Nam Hwa-young, interim chief of the national fire department.
“We didn’t have enough rescue and rescue agents, so we had a hard time managing the situation on the spot.”
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