Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 5 News List

South Koreans irate over concert deaths

STAMPEDE Relatives of the dead and injured said there were not enough safety personnel, police or rescue officials at the venue, while a survivor mourned his wife

AGENCIES , SANGJU, SOUTH KOREA

Angry relatives in the sleepy country town of Sangju yesterday questioned safety procedures at the stadium where 11 people were killed and 98 injured in a stampede to see a holiday music concert.

President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday ordered the Cabinet to take steps to prevent such a tragedy from recurring, his office said.

The town's lack of experience staging such large events -- which allowed seating on a first-come, first-served basis -- appeared to have played a part in the tragedy.

A preliminary police investigation showed the accident occurred when one of the main gates was opened earlier than others for the concert that had attracted a crowd of about 10,000.

People rushed to the open gate, causing a surge that quickly turned into a stampede, according to police. Elderly people and children at the front of the line were trampled.

"No big event has come to this city for more than 10 years. That is why so many people wanted to go out to the concert," said a 45-year-old male resident of the town about 250km southeast of Seoul.

Relatives complained there were not enough safety personnel, police and rescue officials on hand.

"Bring them back alive," family members screamed at Sangju Mayor Kim Keun-soo as he visited Sangju St. Mary's Hospital.

Kim apologized to the bereaved at a mortuary set up next to City Hall where he met with relatives of the victims. He said he took "full responsibility" for the accident.

The mayor left in a hurry as the survivors became more agitated.

The dead included eight women aged 54 to 76, along with three boys aged 7, 12 and 14.

Kim In-shim, 66, was one of 11 people killed. Her husband, Kim Byung-sul recounted how he had tried in vain to revive his wife while waiting for help to arrive, despite his own broken right leg.

"I tried hard not to fall while holding the clothes of a policeman next to me, but couldn't help it. People kept falling over me again and again," said Kim In-shim, 69. "My wife was following me, holding my hand. When I fell, I felt something bad was going to happen to her."

He said he had pleaded with his wife of more than 40 years to accompany him to the concert even though she had said she would prefer to see it on TV.

"I insisted we go together," he said from his hospital bed, his right leg in a cast and an intravenous drip in his left arm.

He said because of the expected large turnout, they arrived four hours early -- placing them at the front of the crowd. The concertgoers were told to gather at the No. 3 gate, where Kim said already dozens of people were waiting.

Organizers told the people to back off around 5:30pm so they could open the door outward.

"But we could barely move and many of the audience shouted they should not open the door, saying it could lead to an accident as there were so many people there," Kim In-shim said. "I hoped they would disperse the crowd first before opening the door."

He said he did everything he could think of to try to save his wife before an ambulance arrived.

"I blew breath into her nose and mouth and pushed her chest," he said.

He and other victims said the accident wouldn't have happened if organizers let the audience in as soon as they arrived, or opened more doors at the venue.

"They are murderers," he said. "The fact that they opened only one gate means they were going to kill us all."

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