EXPLAINER | Seoul tragedy: The difference between crowd crush and stampede

  • Many victims of the Seoul tragedy, mostly women and young people in their 20s reportedly died when they suffered cardiac arrest.
  • The massive crowd rush took place in the entertainment district of Itaewon on Saturday night.
  • About 100 000 people thronged the area known for its bars and clubs.

At least 150 people have been killed in a crowd crush in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, with many of the victims dying of cardiac arrest, marking the deadliest of such incidents in the country’s history.

The tragic event is being described as a crowd crush or surge, which is different from a stampede.

A crowd crush is when people are packed in a confined space and keep pushing, causing the crowd to fall in a “domino effect” making it hard for people to get up again. The bigger the crowd, the stronger the effect of the crowd crush is.

READ | Halloween crush: At least 151 people killed in Seoul stampede, national period of mourning declared

The result is that people’s lungs do not find enough space to expand, making it difficult to breathe.

“As people struggle to get up, arms and legs get twisted together. Blood supply starts to be reduced to the brain,” Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England, told NPR after 10 people died at a festival in Houston last November.

“It takes 30 seconds before you lose consciousness, and around about six minutes, you’re into compressive or restrictive asphyxia. That’s a generally the attributed cause of death – not crushing, but suffocation,” he added.

Halloween celebrations

The disaster in Seoul took place on Saturday as a huge crowd thronged a narrow alley during Halloween celebrations in the nightlife district of Itaewon. Witnesses’ harrowing accounts of the incident described people scrambling to get out of the suffocating crowd in the downhill alley as people ended up piling on top of one another.

About 100 000 people thronged the area known for its bars and clubs.

“People kept pushing down into a downhill club alley, resulting in other people screaming and falling down like dominos,” one unidentified witness was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

One of the deadliest of such incidents took place in Saudi Arabia when more than 1 400 pilgrims died in July 1990 inside al-Muaissem tunnel near the Muslim holy city of Mecca during Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, at the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Such events can be triggered for different reasons. In Indonesia last month, at least 130 people died after police fired tear gas in a stadium where half of the doors were locked, causing a crush at the exits.

A stampede by contrast implies that people have space to run. It occurs when a larger group of people, which can be frightened or excited, run together in an uncontrolled way to escape from something.


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