Itaewon emergency calls expressed alarm early in the night

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TOKYO – Desperate pleas for help came in as early as 6:34 p.m., hours before unconscious bodies were lined up along a main street in Seoul’s Itaewon district after a massive surge of crowds.

“There’s a lot of people walking up and down this alley, I’m very nervous about it,” the caller said. “I think people could be broken. I barely escaped, but there are too many people. I think you should intervene.”

Over the next few hours, more people would arrive in the same alley, and the party goers would be packed to the point where they couldn’t even move their fingers and toes. At least 156 people died and at least 157 were injured in the country’s deadliest incident in recent years.

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South Korea admits police crowd control was “inadequate” before the crackdown

Transcripts of about 11 emergency call logs released Tuesday show growing desperation and repeated warnings from partygoers at least four hours before it turned deadly. They asked emergency personnel to intervene and control the crowd.

At 8:09 p.m., a caller gave detailed directions to where the crowd was gathering. “There are so many people here. … That’s crazy. “People are getting hurt.”

At 9 p.m.: “There are too many people. At any moment there will be a great calamity. Everyone is pushing each other. You should come control this crowd.”

At 9:51 p.m.: “There are so many people, I think there should be crowd control. … If possible, could you hurry up? … It feels very dangerous right now.”

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At 10:11 p.m.: “Here we are about to be crushed. It’s a mess… [audible screams]. In Itaewon, on the back road. In Itaewon, on the back road.”

According to video footage from witnesses, emergency personnel swarmed the alley around 11 p.m. South Korean media reported that because the area was so congested, it took responders longer than expected to reach the crash site.

Transcripts reflect the chaos at the scene and corroborate some witness accounts that the area had been alarmingly crowded since early evening. Many of the partygoers and members of the public criticized the lack of police presence in the area.

South Korea is dealing with the trauma of the Halloween crowd

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South Korea’s police chief, Yoon Hye-geun, said Tuesday that crowd control was “inadequate” in the Itaewon district where the crush occurred.

About 100,000 people a night were expected in that neighborhood during Halloween weekend. There were only 137 local police officers sent to the area – about one for every 730 people – whose primary role was to focus on petty crime, drugs and sexual and physical abuse.

Yun said in his briefing that there were emergency calls from the area before the crash, warning the large number of people gathered in the narrow alley where the wave later occurred. Independent investigators within the agency are determining whether the response to those calls was sufficient, he said.

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