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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 1)

All News 07:11 November 01, 2022

Lack of precautions
Authorities are to blame for 'manmade disaster'

The nation is in deep grief, mourning the victims of the Halloween tragedy which occurred on Saturday night. On Monday, people lined up to pay tribute to the victims at altars installed near the accident site in Itaewon, as well as at Seoul Plaza and in other cities around the country. We again express our deep condolences to the bereaved families of 154 people, including 26 foreign nationals, who were killed in the crowd crush.

It was an unimaginable disaster that should not have happened in the center of Korea's capital, Seoul. The tragedy took place as hundreds of Halloween partygoers packed into a narrow, inclined alley just 3.2 meters in width next to Hamilton Hotel, after the government lifted the outdoor mask mandate against the COVID-19 pandemic. Central and municipal authorities should have taken necessary precautions to prevent such a deadly accident when around 130,000 partygoers gathered for Halloween celebration.

A day earlier, up to 100,000 people gathered there with some minor accidents in which people fell. However, police and disaster control authorities apparently disregarded concerns about any unpredictable accidents. If they had been well-prepared, the damage could have been minimized at least.

The police and municipal authorities are to blame for failing to take timely and appropriate measures to prevent the accident. Relevant officials and Itaewon merchants met to discuss the matter Oct. 26, three days before the start of Halloween weekend. However, they did not take any measures. What they did was monitor the roads and facilities in Itaewon via surveillance cameras.

They cannot avoid criticism for having neglected the safety of the partygoers even though they anticipated the gathering of large crowds, regarding the festivities as "unofficial and without organizers." They only issued a brief instruction calling on restaurants there to abide by regulations on outdoor business activities.

Only a few officials were dispatched for the festivities. In contrast, a large number of police were mobilized to cope with political rallies held around the presidential office and downtown Seoul against the Yoon Suk-yeol administration until late Saturday afternoon. Yet the Halloween festivities which attracted far larger crowds remained without proper control for safety until the mayhem erupted suddenly.

Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min took flak for his remarks apparently trying to avoid responsibility. "I'm not sure the disaster could have been prevented even if more police officers and firefighters had been dispatched in advance." How could a minister in charge of the people's safety and anti-disaster measures make such a statement?

All told, the disaster is a sort of "manmade accident." It is not proper to attribute the mishap to the faults of the people celebrating Halloween. Around that time, people also crowded together but no such accidents took place at nearby subway stations thanks to proactive guidance by metro employees. Now the government should overhaul its disaster prevention and safety system and work out radical measures to stop such tragedies from happening again.

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