South Korean authorities said Monday they had no guidelines to handle the huge crowds that gathered for Halloween festivities in Seoul, as families in the country and around the world mourn the 155 victims of Saturday night’s crowd crush.
The crush took place in the narrow neon-lit alleyways of the popular nightlife district Itaewon, where witnesses described being unable to move or breathe as thousands of revelers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a street no more than 4 meters (13 feet) wide.
Frantic families spent much of Sunday gathering at information centers where authorities compiled details of the dead and wounded, and contacting morgues and hospitals in a desperate attempt to locate missing relatives.
With all of the victims now identified, the panic has transformed to national grief as the country grapples with one of its worst-ever disasters – while parents overseas make arrangements for their deceased children in a foreign land.
Official memorial altars were set up in central Seoul Monday, with photos showing crowds visiting to pay their respects. Many were in tears and holding white flowers; others knelt and bowed deeply to the altar.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, his wife, Kim Keon-hee, and top officials including the prime minister and Seoul mayor joined the mourners.
Many shops and businesses were closed to observe a week-long national period of mourning. Parts of central Seoul were nearly deserted – a highly unusual sight in the usually bustling capital that’s home to about 10 million people.
People also paid respects at a makeshift memorial in Itaewon, outside a subway station near the alley where the crush occurred. The station entrance is adorned with rows of flowers, and offerings such as handwritten notes, bottles of the Korean liquor soju and paper cups filled with drinks.
Among the mourners was a civic group of the bereaved families of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which killed 304 people – mostly teens on a school trip – when the vessel sank in 2014.
“As one who had suffered the same pain, my heart is torn and I’m rendered speechless,” one of the group’s members told reporters at the memorial, saying the families were saddened to see “a major disaster like this repeated.”