Students studying abroad in Seoul are among the first victims to be named from the horrific Halloween stampede in South Korea this weekend.
At least 154 people were crushed to death after panic broke out during an event at capital Seoul’s popular nightlife district of Itaewon, which saw dozens more injured as people attempted to flee the crowded scene.
The disaster came after thousands of people attempted to cram themselves into a narrow alleyway during the city’s annual Halloween festivities, which caused a deadly surge.
What exactly caused the surge is still unclear, but at least 132 others are believed to have been injured, with 37 in serious condition. Officials fear the death toll could rise further.
Seoul’s fire chief Choi Seong-beom was seen visibly shaking as he confirmed the victims were mostly teenagers and people in their twenties.
The South Korean government later confirmed 26 foreign nationals from 15 different countries had been among those killed during the event.
Two American college students were the first to be identified.
Among the dead was Anna Gieske, 20, an American nursing student at the University of Kentucky who had been studying abroad in South Korea and recording her travels on Instagram.
Her dad, Dan, told NBC News in a statement that the family had been ‘completely devastated and heartbroken’ over the loss of their daughter, and described her as a ‘bright light loved by all.’
Steven Blesi, a 20-year-old student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, was also killed in the disaster, according to his dad Steve Blesi.
‘We just got confirmation our son died,’ said Mr Blesi Sr on Twitter on Sunday. ‘Thank you for the outpouring of love. We need time to grieve.’
Speaking to the New York Times, he said: ‘[My son] was an adventurous spirit and a loving spirit. That’s the only way I know how to describe him. And the loss is just unbearable.’
Tributes have also poured in for 23-year-old film production assistant Grace Rached from Sydney, who died in the incident while two of her friends were left in intensive care.
In an emotional TikTok video, Grace’s friend Nathan Taverniti said: ‘Nobody was willing to help.
‘I watched as people filmed and sang and laughed while my friends were dying, along with many other people.
‘I was there trying to pull people out because there were not enough police officers and nobody was doing anything to make the crowd stop.’
Many of the dead and injured were said to have suffered agonising injuries, as witnesses described people bleeding from the mouth while receiving CPR.
Also killed was 24-year-old Choi Boseong, who had been in the centre of Seoul to celebrate his birthday with two friends before being caught in the stampede.
Friends of Choi notified his girlfriend Gabriela Pares of the situation following their escape, who flew to Seoul from the US the next day to pay her respects.
Other foreign nationals killed during the tragic event include two Japanese women, one of whom had been studying Korean abroad.
26-year-old Tomikawa Mei was from Hokkaido in northern Japan, and was crushed to death during the event. Her dad told NHK he attempted to call her phone several times until it was answered by a Korean police officer who informed him of his daughter’s fate.
Korean singer and actor Lee Ji Han, 24, has also been named among the dead.
Representatives for Ji Han, who was best known as a contestant on Season 2 of reality TV show Produce 101, confirmed he had got caught up in the stampede and died.
South Korean president Han Duck-Soo has since declared a day of mourning in the country and announced the creation of a 600-strong task force to investigate the incident, which is still largely shrouded in mystery.
But early witness testimony from survivors and first responders suggests it was a crowd crush event, in which people were trapped so tightly together, or under so much weight from people who have fallen on top of them, that they could not breathe.
Witnesses to the event described a ‘hell-like’ chaos as masses of people fell on top of each other ‘like dominoes’, with the whole area becoming so tightly packed that emergency workers were unable to get in and victims were unable to get out.
The event was the first public Halloween celebration in three years following restrictions put in place by the Covid-19 pandemic.
All Halloween events across the country have since been cancelled, including large-scale events such as K-pop concerts.
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