Public mourning begins for Itaewon casualties
President Yoon Suk-yeol, first lady Kim Keon-hee and political leaders visited mourning altars for victims of the Itaewon tragedy Monday.
The presidential couple, dressed in black, visited an altar set up at Seoul Plaza in central Seoul and laid white chrysanthemums and bowed their heads in silent prayer at around 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Yoon dedicated all of Monday to focus on the aftermath of the tragedy.
As of Monday, 154 people were confirmed dead after the horrific crowd crush in Itaewon in Yongsan District, during the first Halloween celebrations since most Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
On Sunday, the government declared Yongsan District a special disaster area, which allows the government to provide subsidies to victims and the families of people killed in the tragedy.
Yoon declared a weeklong period of national mourning through Saturday.
The government said Monday it would pay up to 15 million won ($10,511) for funeral expenses for each victim of the disaster and cover medical expenses for the injured through national health insurance funds. The government will also provide up to 20 million won in compensation to the families of the victims.
It also said that tax and telecommunication fees will be reduced or deferred for the victims and relatives of the dead.
Korean flags were lowered to half-mast at government offices and diplomatic missions abroad, and public officials wore black ribbons of condolence.
The leaders of the People Power Party (PPP) and the Democratic Party (DP) also visited mourning altars for the victims.
“I offer my condolences in memory of the young people who have departed like flower petals yet to blossom,” PPP interim leader Chung Jin-suk wrote in a guestbook at the Seoul Plaza altar. “I will do my best to make a safer Republic of Korea.”
In a PPP meeting at the National Assembly in western Seoul earlier that morning, Chung said there is a need to overhaul to the nation’s “social safety net.”
“Now is the time for remembrance, not interrogation,” said Chung. “We need to find ways to upgrade our safety infrastructure to the level of advanced countries and allocate our budget appropriately. We will find the shortcomings, take tangible measures and report the results to the public.”
DP Chairman Lee Jae-myung and other members of his party paid respects at another altar set up near Noksapyeong Station in Yongsan District, near the site of the accident.
At a Sunday meeting of the DP supreme council, Lee pledged bipartisan cooperation and said his party would work with the government to overcome the tragedy.
“While the cause of the accident and measures to prevent a recurrence are important, now is the time to focus on resolving the accident and healing and comforting the victims,” Lee said.
Memorial altars will be set up in 17 cities and provinces from Monday to receive visitors through Saturday.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]