“We gave up an hour later and tried to turn around to go home but we could not move in the other direction either,” Ms. Kim said in a telephone interview. “There were people pushing from behind us. There were people in front of us pushing down the hill to go in the other direction.”
Later, a group of young men made a hard shove down the hill, chanting “Push! Push!”
“A person in front of me slipped and fell, pushing me down as well. People behind me fell like dominoes,” Ms. Kim said. “There were people beneath me and people falling on top of me. I could hardly breathe. We shouted and screamed for help, but the music was so loud in the alley our shouts were drowned.”
The crush began at a narrow roadway right outside Exit 2 of the Itaewon subway station, in Itaewon, one of Seoul’s more international and freewheeling neighborhoods, near a row of bars that included, among others, Oasis Bar & Cafe, Gathering and Ravo — a blazing neon magnet for young people looking for a good time. A big sign in yellow, red, pink and blue letters read, “Happy Halloween.”
Around 11 p.m., officials began sending alerts urging people to avoid Itaewon. Benedict Manlapaz, a filmmaker visiting from New York, arrived at the station about an hour later to see the streets jammed with crowds. The people, he said, were “irritated,” with some crying.
“People were shoulder to shoulder,” said Mr. Manlapaz, 23.
Witnesses said the police appeared to have trouble maintaining control of the crowds. And images posted to social media showed scores of bodies piled atop one another in the narrow alley as emergency crews worked to pull them free.
“Our people are so insensitive about public safety,” Ms. Kim said. “The government should have sent more police to control the crowd. There was a Halloween crowd in Itaewon last year despite the pandemic. The government should have anticipated a much bigger crowd this year because most of the pandemic restrictions are gone.”
Officials initially said that many of those killed had lapsed into cardiac arrest. Citizens, police officers and emergency medical workers were seen performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on people sprawled on the pavement. Later, a grim lineup of bodies covered by sheets or towels appeared before rescue workers could begin carrying them away.