How Peaceful Crowds Turn Into a Deadly Crush
It doesn’t take stampeding or unruly behavior to result in massive tragedies
The more than 150 people who died celebrating Halloween in Itaewon, a dense neighborhood in Seoul, were victims of a crowd crush. The disaster was not a stampede; it was not the result of unruly behavior or people trampling over one another. Instead, it was a tragedy in which the massive number of people packed into an alley turned the crowd itself into a hazard.
Crowds don't need to surge for the gathering to turn deadly—smaller movements and pushes by those on the outer edges can send currents through the group that grow in strength, creating a domino effect. Eventually, the pressure on people’s bodies turns suffocating. “They'll not have done anything deliberately. It’s very difficult when you’re in a crowd to know that it’s dangerous,” says Martyn Amos, a professor at Northumbria University who studies crowds.
These types of disasters have been documented for decades at sporting events, concerts, and nightclubs, most recently in October when 135 died following a football match in Indonesia, and when 10 perished at the Astroworld music festival in Houston, Texas, in 2021. Experts say crushes are preventable but can occur due to the failings of authorities and organizers—and Amos thinks this is the case in Seoul, as well.
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