Crime & Justice

Itaewon limps to recovery six months after Halloween crowd crush

By Andrés Sánchez Braun

Seoul, Apr 29 (EFE).- Six months after the tragic Halloween crowd crush that claimed 156 lives, Itaewon is struggling to recover with the support of local businesses and governments.

Although the streets of Itaewon, famous for its nightlife and one of Seoul’s most diverse communities, have not recovered their liveliness, an artist’s colorful dance performance drew a large crowd on Saturday.

The performance was part of the “Hey Itaewon” project, promoted by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.

The project also includes a street exhibition of photos and paintings signed by urban artists and musicians, including Hwang Chang-sung from the K-Pop band 2pm, rapper Cheetah and the legendary Kim Wan-sun, who was once nicknamed the “Korean Madonna.”

There are even photographs taken by diplomats, such as the ambassador of the Dominican Republic to South Korea, Federico Cuello, and the former Mexican ambassador to the country, Bruno Figueroa, wanting to contribute towards the revitalization of the neighborhood.

“Within Seoul, Itaewon has historically been a major (nightlife) area. However, since the tragedy last year people have developed the idea that Itaewon is not the place to go,” Gwak Beom-jo, owner of the Sector118 bar, told EFE.

Less than a hundred meters from the exhibition is the narrow alley in which hundreds of people were trapped on the night of Oct. 29, 2022 during Halloween festivities.

On its walls still hang messages of condolences for the 159 people who died and the nearly 200 wounded during the incident, which for months has left the neighborhood deserted, especially at night.

“The tragedy did not affect us directly because we have a multinational clientele. But most Korean customers stopped coming after what happened. Death, and especially death in tragic circumstances, creates a huge taboo in Korea,” the foreign owner of a cocktail bar, who preferred not to reveal his name, said.

To ease the plight of local businesses, Minister of SMEs and Startups Lee Young attended the inauguration of “Hey Itaewon” and chaired a meeting with representatives of the guild, from which the idea of starting a campaign on Instagram under the hashtag “#eat taewon” was born.

The campaign encourages people to photograph themselves dining in Itaewon and tag their friends and acquaintances on the social media, urging them to visit the neighborhood, which also other stigmas attached to it.

For decades, the neighborhood was home to the country’s main US military base as well as brothels for troops.

It is also home to South Korea’s largest mosque and its biggest Muslim community, and until recently was a haven for the LGBT+ community.

A large Covid-19 outbreak at the beginning of the pandemic in several gay bars dealt a terrible blow to the area and led to the closure of many nightclubs.

The city council, whose senior officials have been charged with negligence for the Halloween crush, has approved the installation of closed-circuit cameras equipped with AI in 70 points of the neighborhood to alert crowds in advance, hoping that such measures will make visitors feel safer and encourage them to return to the area. EFE


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