SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) – South Korea is calming down public outrage on Tuesday over a Halloween party that killed more than 150 people, most of them young, promised a quick and intensive investigation and called for tough new safety measures to prevent similar disasters.
The death toll from the crowds at a crowded Halloween street party on Saturday rose to 156 with 151 injured, 29 of whom were in serious condition. At least 26 citizens from 14 countries were among the dead.
Tens of thousands of revelers – many in their teens and twenties and dressed in costume – had packed the narrow streets and alleys of the popular district of Itaewon for the first virtually unrestrained Halloween celebrations in three years.
The country’s top security official, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, issued an apology on Tuesday and promised to find out the cause of the incident and prevent similar cases from happening again.
“As the minister overseeing the safety of the public, I sincerely apologize for the incident,” Lee said, adding that the government has “unlimited responsibility for the safety of our people” as he addressed a live televised parliamentary session .
He has faced public criticism after saying that deploying more police could not have prevented the disaster.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon also tearfully apologized at a media briefing, saying the city government will use all available administrative resources “until every citizen can return to normal life.”
National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun earlier Tuesday acknowledged that crowd control at the scene was “inadequate,” noting that police had received multiple reports on the night of the disaster warning of possible accidents .
“The police will, without exception, quickly and rigorously carry out intensive inspections and investigations into all aspects to clarify the truth about this accident,” Yoon said at a news conference.
Premier Han Duck-soo said the ongoing investigation will look at whether the responses from government agencies on the ground are appropriate. He pointed to inadequate institutional measures for crowd management as the cause of the deadly flood.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a week of national mourning, saying the country has experienced too many security disasters. He said better responses are crucial, including improved crowd control.
“We should develop concrete security measures to deal with the crowds, not only on these streets where this massive disaster has happened, but also in other places like stadiums and concert halls where large crowds gather,” he said at a cabinet meeting.
All victims were identified and memorial altars were erected at Seoul City Hall and Itaewon District, where citizens paid their respects.
Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; writing from Jack Kim; Edited by Gerry Doyle and Jacqueline Wong
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