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'I couldn't breathe': Seoul crowd crush survivor writes to heal

SEOUL: Kim Cho-long escaped death by chance last October – pulled from packed streets in South Korea’s capital by a friend, as those around her were swept into an alley where 159 people later died in a crowd crush.

Kim, 33, told AFP she’d been going to Halloween parties in Seoul’s Itaewon district for years, but there were more people at the 2022 event – the first post-pandemic celebration – than she’d ever seen before.

The crowd was so dense that she was quickly swept off her feet by the pressure, trapped and unable to breathe, until her friend saw her and somehow managed to drag her into a nearby bar.

“I was completely stuck in the crowd as I was pushed back and forth,” said Kim, who has written a book about her Itaewon experience called Am I a Disaster Survivor?

“The pressure first started from behind, and then pressure came from the front so hard that my feet were lifted off from the ground and I couldn’t breathe.”

Critics showered her with personal insults and told her she was spoiled and shouldn’t have been out partying.

But despite the onslaught of online attacks – which are also aimed at families of victims campaigning for an independent enquiry into the disaster – Kim remains positive.

“ALL SURVIVORS”

“I believe that all citizens living in South Korea are survivors of the Itaewon disaster,” she said.

The police probe did not find any senior officials were to blame for the disaster, and none of the lower-level officials who are being prosecuted have yet been convicted or jailed.

“Looking at this disaster from a survivor’s point of view for a year, I don’t think anything has been resolved and the truth has not been revealed legally, socially, or at any government level,” Kim said.

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But her near-death experience has totally changed her view of society, for the better.

“In the past, I never once imagined how bereaved families would live on. I thought it had nothing to do with me and it was none of my business,” she said.

“But now I realise it could have happened to me, and their pain could be mine someday. So I started to sympathise with them and took more interest in their lives.”

Kim, who hopes to have her book translated into English, said she plans to continue writing about what happened at Itaewon, to keep the memories of all the victims alive.

“I will keep thinking hard about what I can do so that they are remembered for a long time.”

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