Condolences to those who lost loved ones

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Condolences to those who lost loved ones

The entire nation is expressing its condolences after the unprecedented disaster in Itaewon on Saturday, days before Halloween. Over 100,000 citizens rushed to the neighborhood for the first celebration with eased regulations since Covid-19. Halloween festivities were organized by local shop owners and ordinary citizens, not one specific group, which played a big part in causing over 150 deaths and injuring at least 100, as strict public safety manuals do not apply to events held by unspecified groups of people.

But the disaster could have been avoided if the police and fire authorities had thoroughly prepared for possible scenarios in advance. On Saturday, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min made remarks suggesting there would be no problem regarding the readiness of police and fire department personnel. He said that the administration thinks that such an accident hardly could have been avoided by dispatching additional police and firefighters. But they should have paid close attention to growing safety concerns shared online in advance by young people pointing out the terribly overcrowded streets on Halloween last year.

In a press release Thursday, the Yongsan District office said it designated a period for emergency countermeasures to provide quarantine and administrative support to shop owners and residents there, through Monday. But the press release did not contain safety measures for crowd control. The Yongsan Police Station announced a plan to deploy over 200 police officers in several spots susceptible to crimes until Monday, but skipped measures for safe passage.

The government must first carry out its promise to offer financial support for victims’ families and injured people after declaring the Yonsan District as a special disaster zone. The government also must find ways to treat post-traumatic disorders of survivors. Indiscriminate diffusion of images and videos containing fatal moments online must also stop.

Regrettably, however, some politicians sought to exploit the tragedy for political gains, as seen by Nam Young-hee, deputy head of a think tank under the Democratic Party, who attributed the disaster to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan. She later took down her post from Facebook. This is not a moment for political battles, but a moment for bipartisan cooperation.

The central and local governments must find effective solutions to prevent such calamities, given the usual overcrowding at numerous festivals across the country. The government must devise detailed guidelines on public safety for such festivities, too. We extend our deep condolences to the families of the victims again.
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