* 22 foreign nationals are among the dead. The victims include people from Iran, Norway, China and Uzbekistan
* Seoul receives 270 reports of missing persons following Halloween stampede
* The jam of people happened as huge crowds gathered in Itaewon for Halloween
* Most victims were teenagers and adults in their 20s, the fire service says
* South Korea's Yoon declares national mourning period over stampede
* It was the first Halloween event in Seoul since COVID restrictions were lifted
Seoul: South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning on Sunday after a Halloween crush killed some 153 people in a packed nightlife area in Seoul.
Yoon expressed condolences to the victims, mostly teenagers and people in their 20s, and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the many injured in one of the South Korea's worst disasters and the world's worst stampedes in decades.
"This is truly tragic," he said in a statement. "A tragedy and disaster that should not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul last night."
A huge crowd celebrating in the popularItaewon district surged into an alley on Saturday night, emergency officials said, adding the death toll could rise.
Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, told a briefing at the scene 82 people were injured, 19 of them seriously. The deaths included 22 foreigners, he said.
World leaders offer condolences
International leaders expressed condolences after at least 22 foreign nationals from 13 countries were among those killed in a deadly crowd surge. Those killed in Saturday night's disaster included people from China, Iran, Russia, the United States, Australia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Austria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Norway and France, Yonhap news agency reported.
UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, have sent a cable of condolences to President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea over the Itaewon stampede victims in downtown Seoul.
US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden sent their condolences, writing: "We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured."
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: "All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time."
Families and friends desperately sought word of loved ones at community centres that had become makeshift facilities for missing persons.
The disaster occurred in the capital's Itaewon district, where local reports said as many as 100,000 people - mostly in their teens and 20s - had gone to celebrate Halloween, clogging the area's narrow alleyways and winding streets.
As of midday, the Interior Ministry said at least 90% of the victims had been identified, with delays affecting some foreign nationals and teenagers who did not yet have identification cards.
Of the dead, 97 were female and 54 were male, said Choi Seong-beom, head of the fire department in Yongsan, which includes Itaewon, Yonhap reported.
Emergency first aid
Video footage from the scene of the crush showed people performing emergency first aid on several victims who appeared to be prone on the pavement, while rescue workers rushed to help others.
Yellow-jacketed policemen formed a cordon around the site of the crush, with rescue officials loading victims - some of whom were covered with blankets - into ambulances.
Around two dozen people were entirely covered by makeshift blankets on the roadside.
Emergency workers carried them off on wheeled stretchers to waiting ambulances.
Packed alley on slope
Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all the deaths were likely from the crush in the alley.
Fire officials and witnesses said people continued to pour into the alley after it was already packed wall-to-wall, when those at the top of the slope fell, sending people below them toppling over others.
One woman said her daughter, pulled from the crush of people, survived after being trapped for more than an hour.
A makeshift morgue was set up in a building next to the scene. About four dozen bodies were wheeled out on wheeled stretchers and moved to a government facility to identify the victims, according to a Reuters witness.
The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expatriates alike, its dozens of restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses had suffered a sharp decline over three years of the pandemic.
This year's Halloween is the first celebration of the event since the pandemic broke out in 2020 at which South Koreans have not been mandated to wear face masks outdoors.
With the easing of the COVID pandemic, curfews on restaurants and a limit of 10 people for private gatherings were lifted in April. An outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May.
Concerts, government briefings cancelled
As the death toll exceeds 150 following a stampede during Halloween celebrations in Seoul, South Korea is canceling events from government briefings to K-pop concerts.
President Yoon Suk Yeol on Sunday declared a period of national mourning that will run until Nov. 5. The Finance Ministry called off a planned press briefing with foreign media, while local officials canceled events including Halloween parties and the opening ceremony for one of the Korea's largest sales festivals. A major K-pop event in Busan that was expected to draw about 40,000 people was also canceled, the organizer said.Seoul Stampede Leaves Over 150 Dead at Halloween Festivities
Theme parks operated by Samsung C&T Corp. and Hotel Lotte Co. - Everland in Yongin and Lotte World in Jamsil - also canceled Halloween-related parades and firework displays scheduled throughout November. SM Entertainment announced that the company's Halloween party, which was to be broadcast online, will not go ahead. Starbucks Korea and some department stores halted promotions of Halloween-related products, according to Yonhap News.
Desperate families seeking word of missing
In tears, Philomene Aby's hands shook as she asked workers at a South Korean community centre for any news of her 22-year-old son, missing in the wake of a crowd surge in Seoul.
Her son, Masela, went to work at a club in the city's Itaewon area around 6 p.m. on Saturday. That was the last time Aby, a Seoul resident from the Ivory Coast, saw him.
"I called his number but ... he wasn't answering," Aby told Reuters while standing in the Hannam-dong Community Service Center, which became a makeshift missing persons facility in the wake of the disaster.
Bureaucrats who typically handle birth certificates or housing registrations sought to help hundreds of distraught people seeking details of their relatives.
Officers at the centre manned emergency phone lines, taking hundreds of frantic calls to find missing people.
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing at midday local time (0300 GMT) that about 90% of the victims had been identified and authorities were still working on identifying the remaining 10%.
He noted that it takes more time for foreign nationals or teens who have yet to be registered with the government, in which cases they have to directly check with the families.
An official at a funeral home linked to a hospital in Seoul said there were at least two bodies from the incident at the facility on Sunday.
They appeared to have been from outside of Seoul, leading to a delay in family members being able to retrieve the remains, the official said.
"The families need to get this certificate from the police, then we can release the bodies to the families," the official said.
"If the family would want to find out the cause of the death, then the could request an autopsy, but for these bodies, the cause of death seems pretty clear to me."
Scenes of horror
"My friend said: something terrible is happening outside," said Jeon Ga-eul, 30, who was having a drink at a bar at the moment the stampede hit.
"I said: what are you talking about? And then I went outside to see and there were people doing CPR in the street."
The district, which was immortalised by the popular 2020 K-Drama hit Itaewon Class, is a warren of steeply sloping, twisted alleyways on either side of the main road.
The crowd was exceptionally dense on Saturday night, eyewitnesses told AFP, with Jeon saying that even ahead of the disaster, he had felt unsafe.
"There were so many people just being pushed around and I got caught in the crowd and I couldn't get out at first too," he said.
"I felt like an accident was bound to happen."
One father came to collect his 20-something daughter's body at a funeral home linked to a hospital in Seoul, having received a call at 1 a.m. from authorities who identified her.
"This news came like a bolt from the blue sky," he said.
The man, who asked not to be identified, said the family had ordered a car to move the body to their hometown outside Seoul and start the three-day funeral process.
An official at the funeral home said there were at least two bodies from the incident at the facility on Sunday.
They both appeared to have been from outside of Seoul, leading to a delay in family members being able to retrieve the remains, the official said.