USFK sends condolences after deadly Halloween wave in Seoul

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South Korean and American flags fly side by side in Seoul, South Korea, August 2016. (Ken Scar/US Army)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.S. military command in South Korea has offered condolences after a deadly wave in a Seoul nightlife district on Saturday night killed at least 153 Halloween revelers and injured more of 130 others.

A crowd of mostly young people suddenly poured into a narrow, sloping alley in the nation’s capital’s Itaewon district, trapping and crushing scores of people, South Korean emergency officials said at a conference of television news on Sunday morning. The area attracted revelers celebrating one of the biggest outdoor holiday weekends since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago.

Nineteen foreigners died in the stampede, including nationals of China, Iran, Uzbekistan and Norway, emergency officials said.

As of noon on Sunday, US forces in Korea had reported no missing service members, although a spokesman said units were still counting their personnel. About 28,500 US service members, not including civilian employees and families of the Department of Defense, are stationed in South Korea, most at Camp Humphreys, about 80 km south of Seoul.

The U.S. Eighth Army postponed all remaining Halloween events Sunday and Monday at its bases in South Korea as the country mourns the dead beginning Saturday night, according to a post on the command’s social media accounts. These events included a haunted house on Sunday and a prank or treat night on Monday at Camp Humphreys.

The USKF has issued a ‘safety and well-being’ accountability reminder to all staff,” spokesman Wesley Hayes said in an email Sunday morning to Stars and Stripes.

The thoughts of the command “are with all those affected by last night’s tragic event in Seoul, especially the families who lost loved ones and those who were injured”, according to a message on the Twitter account of the USFK.

“The Itaewon community has embraced us for many years and is part of the reason our alliance is so strong,” the statement read. “During this time of mourning, we will be there for you as you have been there for us.”

Hayes said USFK military police were conducting a routine courtesy patrol in the area with Korean National Police officers during the incident and assisted with crowd control and first aid.

The US military has deep roots in Itaewon, a neighborhood of bars and clubs in Seoul that caters to young people and foreigners. Yongsan Garrison, prior to 2017, the USFK and United Nations Command headquarters are less than a mile from Itaewon. The USFK maintains a small contingent at Yongsan, but has since moved to Camp Humphreys and in 2019 began handing over the sprawling base to the South Korean government.

In April, the South Korean government lifted many of the social distancing restrictions and curfews it had enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Large gatherings like the one on Saturday evening were prohibited under these restrictions. About 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon for the biggest outdoor Halloween party since the pandemic began, Yonhap News reported, citing law enforcement officials.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, at a press conference on Sunday, said “the disaster…shouldn’t have happened” and declared a period of national mourning. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, in a separate briefing an hour later, said the mourning period would extend until Saturday.

Yoon ordered an investigation into the incident and said the government would carry out “urgent inspections” on future public events “so that they are conducted in an orderly and safe manner.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden sent their “sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones” and that the United States “stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time,” a statement said. of the White House. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.

“We mourn with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who were injured,” according to the statement on Sunday.

US Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg in a pair of tweets described the incident as a “tragic loss of life” and said the US flag at the embassy in Seoul will be flown at half mast “out of grief. and out of respect for the Korean people”.

The disaster marks the worst loss of life from a single incident in South Korea since a ferry capsized off the southwest coast in 2014, killing 304 people, mostly high school students.

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