Investigators raid Seoul police over deadly crowd surge

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s National Police Agency on Wednesday raided local police departments in the capital, Seoul, and the city’s Yongsan district office as it investigates whether official ineptitude contributed to a deadly crowd surge that killed 156 people in the neighborhood of Itaewon.

The raids came a day after the national agency acknowledged that Seoul police failed to act for hours despite receiving at least 11 emergency calls from pedestrians warning about a swelling crowd of Halloween revelers getting out of control ahead of the crush on Saturday in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel.

The national agency said members of its special investigation unit were retrieving documents and other materials from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Yongsan’s police station, district office and fire department and other offices. Local officials and police have faced sharp questions about why they didn’t employ crowd controls or sufficient personnel in the small nightlife district despite anticipating a crowd of 100,000 following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.

National police chief Yoon Hee Keun also acknowledged Tuesday that its initial investigations found that police officers failed to effectively handle calls notifying authorities about the potential danger of the crowd gathering in Itaewon.

Yoon said police have launched an intense internal probe into the officers’ handling of the emergency calls and other issues, including the on-the-spot response to the crowd surge in Itaewon that night.

His agency also released the transcripts of 11 calls placed to the police’s 112 emergency hotline by pedestrians in Itaewon on Saturday, the first one made around 6:30 p.m., about four hours before the crush near Hamilton Hotel.

The unidentified caller, who was in front of a convenience store at the same alley where the crush occurred, pleaded for police to enforce controls on the area because “too many people are going up and down and it’s too scary.”

“People aren’t able to come down but (people) are also pushing up and I think (they) could get crushed to death,” the caller said.

In transcripts of the 11 calls, the callers used the Korean word meaning “crushed to death” 13 different times to convey their concerns.

South Korea’s interior minister and emergency office chief, the Seoul mayor and the head of the Yongsan ward office, which governs Itaewon, have all offered public apologies.

As of Wednesday, 156 people were confirmed as dead and 157 were being treated for injuries after they were trampled in a crowd surge centered in a narrow alley that runs between the hotel and a dense row of storefronts.

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