At least 153 people are dead and 82 are injured after being crushed in a crowd during Halloween festivities in Seoul, officials in South Korea said, as the death toll in the tragedy continues to rise.
The victims are largely in their 20s, according to the National Fire Agency. Two Americans were among the 19 foreign nationals who died, ABC News confirmed.
A University of Kentucky student, Anne Gieske, was among the victims, the school’s president, Eli Capilouto, said in a statement Sunday.
“Anne, a nursing junior from northern Kentucky, was studying in South Korea this semester with an education abroad program. We have two other students and a faculty member there this semester, as well. They have been contacted and are safe,” Capilouto said .
“We have been in contact with Anne’s family and will provide whatever support we can — now and in the days ahead — as they cope with this indescribable loss,” he added. “We will be there for those in our community who knew and loved Anne. We also have nearly 80 students from South Korea at UK — members of our community — who will need our support.”
Steven Blesi, 20, from Georgia, was also identified as one of the victims.
His father, Steve Blesi, told ABC News that “the world is a darker place without Steven.”
“Last night we received the call no parent should receive. Our dear son Steven died in this horrible event in South Korea where he was studying abroad for a semester. We are devastated and ask for your prayers,” Steve Blesi said in a statement.
Kennesaw State University, where Steven Blesi was a student, also issued a statement, saying he was an international business major and one of 11 students from the university in South Korea as part of a study abroad program. The other students were reported safe, KSU said.
“On behalf of the entire Kennesaw State community, our thoughts and prayers go out to Steven’s family and friends as they mourn this incomprehensible loss,” President Kathy Schwaig said. “We have been in contact with Steven’s family and have offered all available resources of the University to them.”
More deaths were feared in the crush, officials said during a prior update when the casualties stood at 120 dead and 100 injured.
Many victims were transferred to local hospitals in cardiac arrest after emergency CPR, the agency said.
The casualties occurred Saturday night in the Itaewon leisure district, when a large crowd pushed forward in the area’s narrow alleys, according to witnesses.
The incident was first reported around 10:20 pm local time, officials said. It took time for rescue crews to respond due to the large crowds.
More than 100,000 people gathered for Halloween parties in the area, which is known for its nightclubs. The area has bars located along narrow back alleys that flank the main street. People got stuck in these curved, slanted alleys, according to witnesses.
Bystander video from the scene showed a large emergency and police response in the district as a crowd of people, some in costume, were still gathered at the scene. CPR could be seen being performed in the street.
The cause of the crowd surge is under investigation, officials said.
‘It just got too scary’
Janelle Story, an American who has lived in South Korea since 2016, told ABC News the area is usually crowded, especially on Halloween. But this was “another level.”
“It’s the first time since the pandemic that we’ve been able to actually just go out,” she said. “Itaewon is famous for being really crowded, but this was just a level I’d never seen before.”
Story and a friend were bar-hopping when she started filming the crowd around 10:30 pm, she said.
“That’s when I just saw in front of me this mass of people like running and pushing and like moving fast and then screaming and like, panicking,” she said. “We were just kind of standing and slowly. And then it just happened. Bam! This wall of people came at us.”
“I stopped filming because it just got too scary,” she continued.
Story said she heard other bystanders mentioning people were fainting. When they tried to head to the subway station they saw firetrucks, ambulances and police cars, before safely making it home.
“I just can’t believe that this happened. I don’t know how,” she said. “This just feels like a freak event.”
The US offered its support to South Korea in the wake of the tragedy.
“The reports out of Seoul are heartbreaking,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter. “We are thinking about all those who lost loved ones and hoping for a quick recovery for those injured. The United States stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden offered their “deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Seoul.”
“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,” the president said in a statement. “The Alliance between our two countries has never been more vibrant or more vital — and the ties between our people are stronger than ever. The United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this tragic time.”
ABC News’ Nicholas Cirone contributed to this report.