As investigators continue to piece together the exact chain of events that led to the deaths of at least 151 people during an apparent wave of crowds in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Saturday night, an expert has suggested that it is not there may have been “no triggering moment”.
Tens of thousands of people were on the streets of the South Korean capital to celebrate Halloween when the lightning strike happened, according to the local fire chief, and many of them had flocked to the nightlife district Itaewon – an area known for both its vibrant nightlife as well as its narrow streets and alleys.
Witnesses say the narrow streets and alleys had become overcrowded with people gathering outside bars, pubs and restaurants.
At one point, many appear to have tried to flee the area – although officials said there were no gas leaks or fires on site when they received the first emergency calls from people “buried” in the crowd at 10:24 p.m.
Juliette Kayyem, disaster management expert and national security analyst for CNN, said the city’s density may have played a role in the tragedy.
Kayyem said that in a panicked situation, the combination of narrow streets and dead-end alleys “certainly would have been deadly”, and that because Seoul residents are used to crowds, they might not have spotted the danger.
“Seoul residents are used to being in crowded spaces, they may not have been completely alarmed by crowded streets.”
She said panic is often a factor in tragedies like this and that “when panic strikes and you have nowhere to go, you risk being crushed”.
However, she added that when such panics occur, “often there is no trigger moment”.
Still, she said that while it’s difficult to determine what could have triggered the crash, authorities “would have anticipated high numbers … before Saturday evening.”
“It is the authorities’ responsibility to monitor the crowd volume in real time, so that they can sense the need to get people out,” Kayyem said.