More than 400 people died in October in a series of crowd-related disasters in Asia, when a bridge packed with revelers collapsed in India, Halloween partiers were crushed in South Korea’s capital, and spectators fled a stadium in Indonesia after police fired tear gas.
The dynamics in the three situations were distinct, though experts say poor planning and crowd management contributed to the disasters in Indonesia and South Korea. In India, authorities are investigating whether the recently repaired bridge was properly inspected.
In Seoul, 156 people died when more than 100,000 flocked to the popular nightlife district of Itaewon on Saturday for Halloween celebrations, the first since the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
The narrow, sloping alleys of the district became clogged with people, leading to what experts call “crowd turbulence.” That’s when people are so packed together that they don’t have full control over their movements, and the crowd moves as a continuous body.
“It doesn’t require anybody to misbehave, doesn’t require anybody to aggressively or intentionally push,” said Milad Haghani, a researcher at Australia’s University of New South Wales, Sydney.
It is well documented that when crowd densities reach the levels estimated at the Itaewon celebration, people will fall, triggering a domino effect, said Haghani, who has studied more than 275 such crowd-related tragedies dating back to 1902.
But it’s also preventable, he said.
Seoul authorities have been criticized for having 137 officers on hand Saturday to deal with such a large crowd. Officials regularly dispatch many more police to control protests in the capital.