Crime & Justice

Seoul Halloween crush survivor: I could not fill my lungs with air

By Andres Sanchez Braun

Seoul, Oct 31 (EFE).- As Juliana Velandia Santaella struggled to breathe while trapped for some 30 minutes in a Seoul alley where over 150 people died on Saturday during Halloween celebrations, the young woman thought she would not get out alive.

“I was totally paralyzed. I couldn’t even move my toes,” the 23-year-old Mexican tells Efe in an interview.

Santaella finally managed to get out of the alley, but not unscathed and is suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition that involves muscle injury and necrosis when cells begin to die off.

A total of 154 people are confirmed to have died in the crush, some 26 of whom were foreigners, while 33 people remain seriously injured, South Korean authorities said Monday.

Santaella, a medical exchange student at Bucheon Catholic University, where she has been studying since August, recalls snapping a picture with her roommate in Itaewon ro 27ga gil, a bustling street packed with bars, at 10:08 pm local time on Saturday.

“We walked a few meters, turned left and everything happened in the alley. I was at the top of the slope. And we all began to slip down. They began to push us, to push, to push and they did not stop,” Santaella explains.

The pair were trying to get to Itaewon ro, the main street in the trendy neighborhood, via the dreaded alley which is barely 3.2 meters wide.

“At one point they began to push us so much that I lost sight of her (Santaella’s friend). I no longer knew where she was. They began to crush my entire chest and I couldn’t fill my lungs and I couldn’t breathe,” she continues.

“At one point my feet were no longer touching the ground, there were already bodies under me. There was a boy who was unconscious and was crushing me, and my legs were getting so crushed that I stopped feeling them. I swore at one point that I was going to lose my legs, that they were going to break them (…) that I was never going to be able to move them again,” she adds.

For several minutes, the only thing she could move was her neck, and she found she could no longer breathe through her nose because she could not fill her lungs with air due to the crush.

“I realized that the only way to continue breathing was through my mouth. I was taking very short, rapid breaths through my mouth,” recalls Velandia.

Once the unconscious young man on top of her was lifted, she was able to breathe better and a Korean member of the public began to pull at her.

“The problem was that my legs were still stuck among all the bodies. They couldn’t get me out. This boy helped me get my legs out from between the bodies. When they freed me I looked at my cell phone and it was 10:58 p.m. I think I was trapped between 30 and 40 minutes.”

It took several minutes for Santaella to regain feeling in her legs which were still numb from a lack of circulation.

“I couldn’t find my friend, I stayed there for an hour waiting to see if they found… her body,” she mutters.

Fortunately, they found each other when her friend called her from someone else’s phone.

The two spent the rest of the night at a friend’s house in Itaewon and went to the hospital the next day.

Juliana is now suffering from terrible muscle pain and after a rhabdomyolysis-induced fever.

“It hurts to breathe, it hurts to walk. Basically I can’t move,” Santaella concludes.EFE

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