Prince William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, shared a personal message after South Korea’s capital city Seoul became the theatre of the country’s deadliest incident since 2014. Sharing the statement on their official Twitter account, William said: “Catherine and I send all our love and prayers to the parents, families and loved ones of those tragically lost in Seoul yesterday evening.”
To stress it was coming from the Prince and Princess, the message was signed off with their initials – W and C.
The Prince and Princess’ message was shared after at least 153 people, mostly teenagers and people in their 20s, lost their lives on Saturday evening during Halloween celebrations held in Itaewon, a packed nightlife area of Seoul.
An estimated 100,000 people had flocked to the cosmopolitan district on Saturday night after the lifting of social distancing, outside mask mandates and anti-Covid measures allowed to hold the first major Halloween party since 2019.
The deadly crush took place shortly after 10pm local time in a narrowed and sloped alleyways located near the Hamilton Hotel.
The four-metre-wide alleyway was so densely packed that people appeared unable to move in clips and pictures shared on social media.
Eye-witnessed recalled seeing members of the public helping emergency services administering CPR to some of those lying unconscious on the ground while the bodies of many lifeless victims were being lined up along the street and covered in blue blankets.
Jeon Ga-eul, 30, who was having a drink at a bar at the moment the crush began, told AFP news agency: “My friend said: something terrible is happening outside. I said: what are you talking about? And then I went outside to see and there were people doing CPR in the street.”
A doctor who provided first aid at the scene said he had started administering CPR when there were two victims but “the number exploded soon after, outnumbering the first responders”.
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The death toll may rise further as approximately 20 of the 82 people injured during the chaotic scenes were reported to be hospitalised and in serious condition.
At least 24 non-Koreans from 14 different countries – including China, Australia, Norway and the US – have been counted among the victims.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared on Sunday a state of national mourning as he delivered a live address.
He said: “As president, who is responsible for the people’s lives and safety, my heart is heavy and I struggle to cope with my grief.
“The government will designate the period from today until the accident is brought under control as a period of national mourning and will place top priority on administrative affairs in recovery and follow-up measures.”
He added the cause of the incident will be investigated and the government will “make fundamental improvements so that similar accidents do not happen again in the future”.
Mr Yook described the incident as “really devastating” and a “disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween [celebrations]”.
Kate and William joined several world leaders in expressing their condolences and support to South Koreans during this time of national grief.
Among them, US President Joe Biden and first lady Dr Jill Biden wrote in a message: “We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”
Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter: “I’m thinking of everyone affected by this tragedy, and wishing a fast and full recovery to those who were injured.”
Pope Francis I mentioned the tragedy while addressing the crowd of faithful gathered like every Sunday in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
He said: “We also pray … for those, especially young people, who died overnight in Seoul due to the tragic consequences of a sudden stampede.”