In Hours Before Seoul Surge, Worried 911 Calls

National police chief concedes law enforcement response was 'inadequate'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2022 12:32 PM CDT
911 Call Hours Before Deadly Seoul Crush: 'It's Too Crowded'
Rescue workers and firefighters try to help injured people near the scene in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The deadly crowd surge in Seoul over the weekend, which left more than 150 dead and dozens injured during festivities celebrating Halloween, took place about four hours after an initial 911 call had been placed, warning that the number of people crammed into a narrow alley in the Itaewon district was starting to pose a risk. "That alley is really dangerous right now," the caller, who phoned in Saturday around 6:30pm local time from the main road to Itaewon, said to the dispatcher, per the BBC. "It's gonna be crushed. I barely made it ... out but it's too crowded. I think you should control it."

The dispatcher replied by asking if the caller thought there was potential for a "big accident," in which people could fall down and get trampled, to which the caller responded in the affirmative: "This is so chilling right now." Reuters notes that nearly a dozen other emergency calls were placed in the hours after that, and the transcripts released by police revealed additional ominous predictions. "People are falling down on the streets, looks like there could be an accident," one caller said. In the final call made around 10:10—about 20 minutes before the surge turned deadly—that caller stressed, "[People] will get crushed to death here. It's chaotic."

The transcript for that call notes that screams could be heard in the background. A police spokesperson says that officers responded to four of the 11 calls, though it's not clear what they did once they got there, or why they didn't respond to the other seven. Yoon Hee-geun, the nation's police chief, acknowledged Tuesday that law enforcement's response was "inadequate," and that an independent probe was ongoing to get to the bottom of what happened, per the Washington Post. "We will thoroughly investigate the adequacy of the overall on-site response, including the handling of the [emergency calls]," he said. Much more here on eyewitness accounts and the finger-pointing that's now taking place. (More Seoul stories.)

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