At least 153 people died and 82 were injured after being crushed in a crowd during Halloween festivities in Seoul, officials in South Korea said, as the death toll in the tragedy continued to rise.
The victims are mostly in their 20s, according to the National Fire Agency. Two Americans were among the 19 foreigners who died, ABC News confirmed.
A University of Kentucky student, Anne Gieske, was among the victims, the school’s president, Eli Capilouto, said in a statement Sunday.
“Anne, a junior nurse from Northern Kentucky, was studying in South Korea this semester with an education abroad program. We have two other students and a faculty member here this semester, as well. They have been contacted and are safe. “, Capilouto said. .
“We have been in contact with Anne’s family and will provide all the support we can – now and in the coming days – as they cope with this indescribable loss,” he added. “We will be there for those in our community who knew and loved Anne. We also have almost 80 students from South Korea in the UK – members of our community – who need our support.”
Steven Blesi, 20, from Georgia, was also identified as one of the victims.
His father, Steve Blesi, told ABC News that “the world is a darker place without Steven.”
“Last night we received the call no parent should receive. Our dear son Steven died in this horrific event in South Korea where he was studying abroad for a semester. We are devastated and ask for your prayers,” Steve Blesi said in a statement.
Kennesaw State University, where Steven Blesi was a student, also released a statement, saying he was an international business major and one of 11 students from the university in South Korea as part of a program of study abroad. The other students were reported safe, KSU said.
“On behalf of the entire Kennesaw State community, our thoughts and prayers go out to Steven’s family and friends as they mourn this incomprehensible loss,” said President Kathy Schwaig. “We have been in contact with Steven’s family and have offered all the University’s available resources to them.”
More deaths were feared in the crush, officials said during a previous update when the victims were 120 dead and 100 injured.
Several victims were transferred to local hospitals in cardiac arrest after emergency CPR, the agency said.
The casualties occurred on Saturday night in the entertainment district of Itaewon, when a large crowd surged through the area’s narrow alleyways, according to witnesses.
The incident was first reported around 10:20 pm local time, officials said. It took time for the rescue crew to respond because of the large crowd.
More than 100,000 people gathered for Halloween parties in the area, which is known for its nightclubs. The area has bars located along the narrow alleyways that line the main road. People got stuck in these curved, sloping alleys, according to witnesses.
Bystander video from the scene showed a large emergency and police response in the district as a crowd of people, some in costume, were still gathered at the scene. CPR could be seen being performed on the street.
The cause of the crowd surge is under investigation, officials said.
“It’s too scary”
Janelle Story, an American who has lived in South Korea since 2016, told ABC News that the area is usually crowded, especially on Halloween. But this was “another level”.
“It’s the first time since the pandemic that we’ve been able to go out alone,” he said. “Itaewon is famous for being really crowded, but this was just a level I’ve never seen before.”
Story and a friend were bar-hopping when he started filming the crowd around 10:30 p.m., he said.
“That’s when I saw right in front of me this mass of people like running and pushing and like fast movements and then screaming and like, panicking,” he said. “We were just kind of standing there and slowly. And then it happened. Bam! This wall of people came at us.”
“I stopped filming because it got too scary,” he continued.
Story said she heard other passersby say people were passing out. When they tried to go to the subway station, they saw fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, before returning home safely.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t know how,” he said. “This just feels like a strange occurrence.”
The United States offered its support to South Korea after the tragedy.
“The reports out of Seoul are heartbreaking,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan he said on Twitter. “We are thinking of all those who have lost loved ones and hope for a speedy recovery for those injured. The United States stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden offered their “deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul.”
“We stand with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to all those who were injured,” the president said in a statement. “The alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital – and the bonds between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea at this tragic time.”
ABC News’ Nicholas Cirone contributed to this report.