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After Halloween stampede in South Korea, families seek missing loved ones, plan funerals

After Halloween stampede in South Korea, families seek missing loved ones, plan funerals

Family members of people missing after a stampede during Halloween festivities, gather at a community service center in Seoul, South Korea, October 30, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL: In tears, Philomene Aby's hands shook as she asked workers at a South Korean community centre for news of her 22-year-old son, missing in the wake of a crowd surge in Seoul that left at least 153 people dead on Saturday (Oct 29).

Her son, Masela, went to work at a club in the city's Itaewon area around 6pm on Saturday. That was the last time Aby, a Seoul resident from the Ivory Coast, saw him.

"I called his number but ... he wasn't answering," Aby told Reuters while standing in the Hannam-dong Community Service Center, which became a makeshift missing persons facility in the wake of the disaster.

Bureaucrats who typically handle birth certificates or housing registrations sought to help hundreds of distraught people seeking details of their relatives.

Officers at the centre manned emergency phone lines, taking hundreds of frantic calls to find missing people.

According to a Reuters witness, one person broke down and kneeled on the floor after speaking to some officials at the centre. A whiteboard in the main office lists updated numbers of calls every hour, totalling more than 3,580 since 5.30am local time on Sunday.

"No one is telling me the truth," said Aby, who has lived in Seoul with her son for 18 years. With no sign of news about the son, Aby left the centre for the Ivory Coast embassy.

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing at midday local time that about 90 per cent of the victims had been identified and authorities were still working on identifying the remaining 10 per cent.

He noted that it takes more time for foreign nationals or teens who have yet to be registered with the government, in which cases they have to check with the families directly.

One father came to collect his 20-something daughter's body at a funeral home linked to a hospital in Seoul, having received a call at 1am from authorities who identified her.

"This news came like a bolt from the blue sky," he said.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said the family had ordered a car to move the body to their hometown outside Seoul and start the three-day funeral process.

An official at a funeral home linked to a hospital in Seoul said there were at least two bodies from the incident at the facility on Sunday.

They appeared to have been from outside of Seoul, leading to a delay in family members being able to retrieve the remains, the official said.

"The families need to get this certificate from the police, then we can release the bodies to the families," the official said.

"If the family would want to find out the cause of the death, then they could request an autopsy, but for these bodies, the cause of death seems pretty clear to me."

A person pays tribute near the scene of the stampede during Halloween festivities, in Seoul, South Korea, Oct 30, 2022. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-ji)

An official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government told the family of the young woman that plans for supporting victims' families were still being discussed.

"It's sad and difficult to tell you this that support plans for the victims' families have not been decided yet," the official said.

"If the family is transferring the body to their hometown to hold the funeral, please do what you wish to do."

Map showing where crowds were during a Halloween event in Seoul's Itaewon district on Oct 29, 2022. (Infographic: CNA/Rafa Estrada)
Source: Reuters/vc


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