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Worst tragedy in almost decade since Sewol ferry disaster

Police investigate the accident site where hundreds died in a crowd surge in Itaewon, Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Police investigate the accident site where hundreds died in a crowd surge in Itaewon, Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Saturday's Halloween crowd crush, which resulted in 153 deaths and more than 100 injuries as of Sunday afternoon, would be recorded as the worst national tragedy in almost a decade, since the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014.

The Itaewon tragedy also marks as the worst human stampede case rare in the country's history, and has raised public concerns over the country's lack of measures for public safety and crowd management.

One accident where a large number of casualties occurred from stampede was on July 17, 1959 when some 30,000 people participating in a public event at a public stadium in Busan rushed to the exit at the same time to avoid a sudden shower. There, 67 died in a crowd crush.

On Feb. 17, 1992, when New Kids On The Block concert was held in Seoul and one high school student was killed and 50 were injured in a crowd crush at the event.

Two students died in a crowd crush on Dec. 16, 1996, at a concert stadium in Daegu, where a live show was hosted by a popular radio program. At a music concert in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province in October 2005, 11 were killed and 145 were injured.

The most recent human-caused accidents to have incurred a large number of casualties include the Sewol ferry disaster, which occurred on April 16, 2014.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 passengers -- including 325 students on a school trip --and crew. It took off in the early morning from Incheon and sank on its way to Jeju Island. The accident, which resulted in the death of 304, led to widespread social and political upheaval in the country.

The collapse of Seongsu Bridge on Oct. 21, 1994 is also among the most tragic events the country has suffered.

The bridge that crosses over the Han River in Seoul and links Seongdong-gu and Gangnam-gu collapsed as vehicles were still passing over it. Thirty-two people were killed and 17 were injured. The bridge was eventually dismantled and replaced with a new one of a similar design.

Eight months after the tragic collapse, Sampoong Department Store in nearby Seocho, Seoul, collapsed due to a structural failure on June 29, 1995. From the accident, 502 people were killed and 937 were injured in what became the largest peacetime disaster in Korean history.

In February 2014, 10 people died and 105 were injured when a gymnasium at a mountainside resort in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, collapsed. Some 560 incoming freshmen from Busan University of Foreign Studies were gathered inside the gym for a welcoming party.

The Ministry of Interior and Safety in 2017 analyzed all accidents involving a large crowd that had occurred since 1992. As a result, it set up government guidelines mandating event organizers planning an event of more than 1,000 to establish independent safety measures.

The 15 past accidents the ministry looked into showed that the large number of people in the crowds at the events acted as a direct factor leading to the scores of casualties. The ministry also found that an abrupt change of plan or a delay in an event or showcase also has had a meaningful impact -- psychologically affecting the participants -- to cause accidents.

While state guidelines for planned events and performances are in place, the rare human stampede on Saturday has raised new concerns over lack of measures for safety control and crowd management in public.

Public calls are rising for public authorities to come up with measures to prevent such accidents, as the large crowd was expected to gather in the Itaewon district, where it has been known to attract a great number of people celebrating Halloween for years.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)

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