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Disaster

Hurricane Ian sweeps away homes, memories on barrier islands

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By Terry Spencer in Fort Myers Beach

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (AP) — On the road into Fort Myers Beach, cars are left abandoned in the roadway, where they stalled when Hurricane Ian’s storm surge flooded their engines and their drivers couldn’t continue. Broken trees, boat trailers and other debris litter the road.

It’s even worse in the seaside tourist town, much of which was flattened by the fierce winds and powerful storm surge generated by the Category 4 hurricane.

The barrier islands along the southwest Florida coast, famed for their seashells, fishing and laid-back lifestyle, took major hits from Ian when it came ashore Wednesday. Sanibel and Captiva are both cut off from vehicle traffic because the only bridge to the mainland partially collapsed. Nearby Pine Island was also ravaged.

At the Cottage Point mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach, William Goodison and his son, Kurtis, wheeled two garbage cans filled with what was left of his belongings through knee-high water Thursday. A portable air conditioner. Some tools. And a baseball bat.

But his furniture and family mementoes were gone, submerged when a 5-foot (1.5-meter) surge of water plowed across the 60-home community of retirees and working people. Goodison’s single-wide trailer that he called home for 11 years — he had only one payment left — was destroyed. Because of the location, he couldn’t get insurance.

“I own the land, but I’ll have to scrap the trailer,” said Goodison, a carpenter. “To rebuild now …” he said, his voice trailing off at the thought. “But you’ve got to have some place to live.”

Goodison rode out the storm at Kurtis’ house inland. Otherwise, he said, he’d probably be dead.

“I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,” he said.

Goodison said he lost numerous family photos and mementoes. “We’ll have to start building new ones,” he said.

At a small strip mall nearby, Darbana Patel and her family were wrapping yellow caution tape around the 10-foot (3-meter) pile that had been their gas station’s pumping area. The wooden awning that had covered the pumps and protected customers from rain had collapsed, smashing the pumps. Inside the store, the roof had also collapsed. She believes the business, which the family had owned for two years, is a total loss, but it is insured.

Patel said she was stunned when she arrived at the store Thursday to see it reduced to twisted metal and a pile of wood.

“I was like, ‘Where’s my store?’” she said. The other six stores in the strip mall also appeared to suffer extensive roof damage, and a motor home in the parking lot had been flipped on its side.

At the Get Away Marina, the storm surge lifted a dozen large boats — up to 48 feet (14 meters) long — and carried them across the parking lot and a four-lane road before depositing them in a mangrove preserve. The surge also blasted the walls off the marina’s offices and flattened its second floor.

“It must have been a strong storm,” said Robert Leisure, who has owned the marina for two years. He said he and his employees had put in a lot of work improving the docks, which are now mostly gone, and beautifying the property.

“We had a Tiki hut over there,” he said, pointing to an empty spot. “It was really cute,” he said about his business, “but no more.” He thought for a moment as he considered the rebuilding job ahead, “But where do you start?”

As he spoke, charter fishing captain Larry Conley walked up and asked Leisure if he’d seen Conley’s 24-foot (7.3-meter) boat.

“No, but it must be over there someplace,” Leisure said, pointing to the mangroves.

Conley said he has insurance for the boat, but that’s not enough — he needs to take anglers out. “That’s how I pay the bills and survive,” he said.

Eric Siefert, 62, a fulltime resident of Sanibel, was one of dozens of people being evacuated from the barrier island Thursday. Rescue workers were taking equipment over to the island on small boats and bringing people back, a half-dozen or so at a time.

“I thought that given that I have a concrete home with hurricane shutters and storm-grade windows, everything would hold,” Siefert said. “And for the most part it did. We just didn’t think we’d get an 18-foot storm surge.”

Siefert’s home is more than a block from the beach and about 6 feet (2 meters) above sea level, he estimated. His house is also elevated so the living space is about 10 feet (3 meters) off the ground.

The water ended up rising to about a foot above the base of Siefert’s brand new storm sliding doors, with only about an inch of water leaking into the home, Siefert said. Despite the interior staying relatively free from water, Siefert said fear and uncertainty prompted him to lift his disabled wife onto a dresser.

“It was literally like being in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico,” Siefert said. “The water came across multiple football fields and over a street and a half, and it was coming right at us, and it was rising, and it wouldn’t stop rising.”

___

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson and David Fischer contributed to this report.

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Disaster

S. Korea in shock, grief as 151 die in Halloween crowd surge

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Concerned relatives raced to hospitals in search of their loved ones Sunday as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who got trapped and crushed after a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul.

Tens of thousands of people were believed to have gathered in Itaewon for festivities on Saturday night. Witnesses say the streets were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley near Hamilton Hotel, as the situation quickly developed into one of the country’s worst disasters in years.

There were concerns the death toll could grow as 24 people among the 104 being treated for injuries are in critical condition, according to Seoul City’s disaster headquarters.

The city government said more than 2,600 people have called or visited a city office in nearby Hannam-dong as of Saturday afternoon, reporting their relatives as out of contact and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crush.

The dead included 19 foreigners, said Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the nationalities of those victims, but it said that they alerted their countries’ embassies in Seoul. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said at least three Chinese nationals were killed.

The bodies of the dead were being kept at 42 hospitals in the capital, Seoul, and nearby Gyeonggi Province, according to Seoul City, which said it will instruct crematories to burn more bodies per day as part of plans to support funeral proceedings.

Around 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area have agreed to shut down their shops through Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would come to the streets through Halloween Day.

An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began and strict rules on gatherings were enforced. The South Korean government eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months and this was the first big chance to get out and party for many young people.

While Halloween isn’t a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go trick-or-treating, it’s still a major attraction for young adults, and costume parties at bars and clubs have become hugely popular in recent years.

Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of U.S. military forces in South Korea operated before moving out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly district known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants and it’s the city’s marquee Halloween destination.

Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their tally. National Fire Agency officials didn’t immediately explain why the tally was reduced but said emergency workers would have had a more accurate idea of the casualties as rescue operations proceeded and that some of the injured would have been converted to deaths. It was also possible that some of those who were lightly injured had returned home overnight and were no longer counted.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a national mourning period on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff. During a televised speech, Yoon said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and the treatment of the injured would be a top priority for his government.

He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure they proceed safely.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”

After the speech, Yoon visited the Itaewon alley where the disaster occurred. Local TV footage showed Yoon inspecting the alley filled with trash and being briefed by emergency officials.

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell and toppled one another “like dominos” after they were pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued, as some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.

Another survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the newspaper.

In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies near the hotel. He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets. People wailed beside the bodies of their friends, he said.

Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled by managing to get into a bar whose door was open in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s surnamed Park told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the side of the alley while others caught in the middle of the alley had no escape.

Choi, the fire department chief, said that bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured are in their 20s.

“Horrific news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, tweeted that reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington “stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”

The last South Korean disaster this deadly also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was partially blamed on excessive and poorly fastened cargo and a crew poorly trained for emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths will likely draw public scrutiny of what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

It was also Asia’s second major crushing disaster in a month. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.

More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers. The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

This was the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.

In 1960, 31 people died after being crushed on the stairs of a train station as large crowds rushed to board a train during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press

 

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Disaster

59 dead after Halloween crowd surge in Seoul

Published on

By Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — At least 59 people were killed and 150 more were injured after being crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital Seoul, South Korean officials said.

Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department, said the death toll could grow as emergency workers were continuing to transport the injured to hospitals across Seoul following the stampede in the leisure district of Itaewon Saturday night.

Choi said 13 of the dead have been sent to hospitals while the bodies of the remaining 46 were still on the streets.

Officials say it was believed that people were crushed to death after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — At least nine people were killed and dozens more were injured after being crushed by a large crowd pushing forward on a narrow street during Halloween festivities in the capital Seoul, South Korean officials said.

Choi Cheon-sik, an official from the National Fire Agency, said at least 60 more people were being treated for injuries at hospitals and that the death toll could grow following the stampede in the leisure district of Itaewon Saturday night. Officials say it was believed that people were crushed to death after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul.

Officials from the National Fire Agency and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety earlier said about 100 were injured and around 50 were being treated for cardiac arrest as of early Sunday.

More than 400 emergency workers and 140 vehicles from around the nation, including all available personnel in Seoul, were deployed to the streets to treat the injured.

The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

TV footage and photos from the scene showed ambulance vehicles lined up in streets amid a heavy police presence and emergency workers moving the injured in stretchers. Emergency workers and pedestrians were also seen performing CPR on people lying in the streets.

In one section, paramedics were seen checking that status of a dozen or more people who lied motionless under blue blankets.

Police, which were restricting traffic in nearby areas to speed up the transportation of the injured to hospitals across the city, also confirmed that dozens of people were being given CPR on Itaewon streets. The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued emergency text messages urging people in the area to swiftly return home.

A local police officer said he was also informed that a stampede occurred on Itaewon’s streets where a crowd of people gathered for Halloween festivities. The officer requested anonymity, saying the details of the incident was still under investigation.

Some local media reports earlier said the crush happened after a large number of people rushed to an Itaewon bar after hearing an unidentified celebrity visited there.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement calling for officials to ensure swift treatment for those injured and review the safety of the festivity sites. He also instructed the Health Ministry to swiftly deploy disaster medical assistance teams and secure beds in nearby hospital to treat the injured.

Local media said around 100,000 people flocked to Itaewon streets for the Halloween festivities, which were the biggest since the start of the pandemic following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months.

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