Seoul, Oct 30 (EFE).- South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol Sunday declared a period of national mourning after more than 150 people died in a Halloween crush at a crowded nightlife area.
In a televised address to the nation, Yoon said he ordered a probe into the “truly horrific…tragedy and disaster (that) should never have happened.”
A day after the tragedy, the authorities were counting the dead and trying to locate scores of missing people from the stampede in a narrow alley in Itaewon that crushed young revelers who had gathered for Halloween celebrations on Saturday night.
“As president, who is responsible for the people’s lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief,” Yoon said.
“The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning and will place top priority in administrative affairs in recovery and follow-up measures.”
He said the “most important thing” was to determine the cause of the accident and prevent similar tragedies.
“We will thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and make fundamental improvements so that similar accidents do not happen again in the future.”
The presidential office said the government ordered all offices to lower their flags to half-mast.
Official Yonhap news agency said Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told reporters that the mourning period would last from Sunday until Saturday.
The prime minister said the government would set up a mourning altar in downtown Seoul for people to pay tribute to the victims.
The dead included 19 foreigners from Iran, Uzbekistan, China, and Norway.
Fire department head Choi Seong-beom said 97 women were among the deceased.
The stampede, which marked the worst tragedy in South Korea since the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol that killed 304 people, injured more than 80 people near the Hamilton Hotel opposite the Itaewon subway station.
Some 350 people are reportedly missing after the stampede down the slope in the narrow lane.
Every year the Itaewon neighborhood, adjacent to a US military base and a well-known nightlife area, becomes the busiest place to celebrate Halloween.
United States President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden expressed their “deepest condolences” to the families who lost loved ones.
“We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured,” Biden said in a statement.
“The alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital – and the ties between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time,” he said. EFE