December 4, 2022

Party-goers leave the scene after a stampede during a Halloween festival in Seoul on October 30.

Kim Hong-ji/Reuters

As investigators continue to piece together the exact chain of events that led to the deaths of at least 151 people amid an apparent surge in crowds in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Saturday night, one expert has suggested there may have been “no triggering moment”.

According to the local fire chief, tens of thousands of people were on the streets of the South Korean capital to celebrate Halloween when the rush took place, and many of them had flocked to the Itaewon nightlife district – an area known for both its vibrant nightlife as well as its narrow streets streets and alleys.

Witnesses say the narrow streets and alleys were crowded with people gathering outside bars, pubs and restaurants.

At one point, many appear to have attempted to flee the area – although officials said there were no gas leaks or fires at the scene when they received the first emergency calls at 10:24 p.m. from people “buried” in crowds

Juliette Kayyem, a 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 panic situation, the combination of narrow streets and dead ends “certainly would have been deadly,” and that because Seoul people are used to crowds, they might not have recognized the danger.

“People in Seoul are used to being in crowded spaces, it’s possible they weren’t fully alarmed by the crowded streets.”

She said panic is often a factor in tragedies like this and that “when panic sets in and you have nowhere to go, chances are you’ll get crushed.”

However, she added that with such panic attacks “often there is no triggering moment.”

Still, she said that while it’s hard to determine what might have triggered the crush authorities, “would have expected high numbers … before Saturday night.”

“Authorities have a responsibility to monitor crowd volume in real time so they can identify the need to get people out,” Kayyem said.