US soldiers survive storm in South Korea

US soldiers survive storm in South Korea


For hours, they pulled body after body from the crushed tangle of limbs that filled the narrow alley of Itaewon at the epicenter of South Korea’s worst onslaught on record. But it was often too late.

Three off-duty American soldiers stationed in South Korea told AFP how they got caught up in the crowd that killed 151 and injured dozens more, and described scenes of chaos, suffering and death , while fighting for help.

An estimated 100,000 people attended the event, which local vendors said was “unprecedented,” but overwhelmed police, who were also dealing with a city-wide protest, only planned to deploy about 200 officers.

The three US soldiers told AFP they were part of the crowd descending the narrow, steep alley that became a death trap, but managed to escape to a landing-like area to the side.

But shortly after they managed to jump out of the crowd, “it started — everyone was falling on top of each other like dominoes,” Jarmil Taylor, 40, told AFP.

The people at the top of the alley tried to force their way down even though the road was already rammed full – and then the people started falling.

“It was people on top of people – it was layers of people. They didn’t have enough people there to help them right away,” Taylor, visibly dazed and tired, told AFP on Sunday at the scene.

“People in the pile panicked, which made the situation worse. There was noise everywhere that made it impossible – people screaming just drowned out all the noise,” he added.

He and his friends would try to pull the victims out of the crowd and get them to safety so rescue workers could perform CPR, he said.

“We picked a lot of people and took them to the nearby clubs since they finally opened them. Club floors were filled with people lying on the floor.”

– “It just fell apart” –

Washington has around 27,000 US troops in South Korea to protect it from the nuclear-armed North, and Taylor and his friends are stationed at Camp Casey in Gyeonggi.

During their week off, they decided to go to the celebrations in Itaewon, but said they realized something was wrong when they found themselves in the huge crowd.

“We got nervous too, we were in the middle of it and that’s why we moved to the side, and then it just fell apart,” said Dane Beathard, 32.

People were squeezed so tightly into the alley that rescue workers couldn’t get them out of the tightly packed crowd, he said.

“We helped pull people out all night … It’s been a long time for people that were stuck there not to breathe,” Beathard said.

“All the crushed people were in the front where they collapsed into a heap,” he said, adding that in the worst spots there was “a 15-foot layer of people.”

Authorities said the majority of the victims were young women in their 20s.

“There were a lot of women in the crowd who got knocked down,” said Jerome Augusta, 34.

“I think because they were smaller, their diaphragms were being squeezed. And because they panicked, which made the chaos even more chaotic,” he said.

Initially, there were hardly any police or rescue workers at the scene, the trio said, and the sheer size of the crowd meant those at the back had no idea the disaster was unfolding right in front of them.

“We yelled at them to back off, but it was too little, too late,” Augusta said.

The soldiers stayed at the edge of the crowd all night, desperately trying to pull people out of the piles of bodies, but said by the time they got to them it was often too late.

“We’re not little guys, but we were also down before we came out,” Taylor said, adding that the disaster struck so quickly that they hadn’t managed to process what was going on.

“What you have to understand is that people were stuck up front, they were all on the ground – crushed. So you couldn’t push forward and trample everyone in front, so people piled up as they fell,” he said.

The trio said they felt lucky to have survived.

“When we left there were bodies everywhere,” the three told AFP.

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