“Bodies everywhere”: in Seoul, three American soldiers in shock after the deadly stampede

“Bodies everywhere”: In Seoul, three American soldiers under the shock after the deadly stampede

DAY

Surrounded by corpses strewing the narrow alleys of Seoul, three American soldiers have improvised rescuers to extract the survivors of the worst stampede in South Korea. But it was often “already too late”. 

People fell “like dominoes”, says, dazed, Jarmil Taylor, 40 years old.

With his two friends also stationed in Seoul, the soldier headed for the small alley on Saturday evening which turned into a bottleneck in the Itaewon district. They narrowly escaped the stampede. 

Interviewed by AFP, they look back on an evening marked by scenes of chaos, suffering and death, as they tried to to help in this drama which claimed 153 lives.

“There were not enough people to help them all at the same time”, sighs Jarmil.

At the top of the alley, the crowd was trying to force their way through, even though the street was already packed – and people started falling “on top of each other”.

For those stuck in the middle of the rush, there was panic, screaming.

“They were panicking and it made the situation worse. There was noise everywhere…people screaming drowned out all the other sounds,” he describes.

For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, some 100,000 people were out that evening for the Halloween festivities, an “unprecedented” crowd, according to local traders. 

< p>Faced with this crowd movement, the three soldiers mobilized to get the victims, often unconscious, out of the crush, in order to transport them to a safe place and so that the emergency services could perform cardiac massage.

“The nightclubs around were full of people lying” on the ground, transformed into temporary shelters, describes Jarmil. 

Too late

About 27,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea in the event of a nuclear attack from the North. Mr. Taylor and his colleagues serve in Gyeonggi, Casey Camp.

They met in Itaewon to party during their week off. But they quickly understood that the crowd was too dense.

“We were tense too, we were in the middle”, remembers for his part Dane Beathard, 32 years old.

From the packed crowd, rescuers were struggling to evacuate casualties, he said.

“We helped extract people all night []. People stuck in there couldn't breathe for a long time,” Dane said.

The majority of victims were young women in their twenties, according to authorities.

Because of their “smaller size, I think their diaphragm got crushed, and as they panicked, it made [the situation] even more chaotic,” says Jerome Augusta, 34. 

Initially, there were hardly any police or rescue teams on the scene, the trio noted, and the crowd kept growing. 

Those at the rear could not see what was happening just in front. 

“They were shouted at to back up, but it was already too late”, assures the soldier, who says he worked tirelessly all night to save lives.

Even when they managed to extract victims, they were often lifeless.

“We are not little guys, but we have been crushed before too to get out” of the crowd, Jarmil recalls.

“What you have to understand is that the people stuck in the front were all on the ground, already crushed,” he explains . 

The three compatriots I'm lucky to have survived this tragedy.

“When we left, there were bodies everywhere, everywhere”, let go of the three men together.