Explainer: How and why do crowd surges turn deadly?

It happened at a music festival in Houston, at a football stadium in England, during a Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, at a nightclub in Chicago, and countless other gatherings: crowds flock to exits, onto playing fields, or crowd onto a stage with force, that people are literally being crushed to death.

And it’s happened again, during Halloween celebrations in the South Korean capital of Seoul, where a crowd pushed forward through the narrow street they were in as trucks, killing more than 140 people and injuring 150 others.

The risk of such tragic accidents, which decreased as venues closed and people stayed home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has returned.

Of course, most events where large crowds gather happen without injury or death, and fans come and go without incident. But those that went horribly wrong shared some common traits. Here’s a look at why this happens:

HOW DO PEOPLE DIE AT THESE EVENTS?

While films showing crowds frantically trying to flee suggest that most deaths result from being trampled on, the reality is that most people who die in a crowd suffocate.

South Korea Halloween mass wave

South Korea Halloween mass wave

Injured people are helped on the street near the crime scene early Sunday, October 30, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea.

AP Photo/Lee ​​Jin-man

What cannot be seen are forces strong enough to bend steel. That means something as simple as breathing becomes impossible. People die standing up and those who fall die because the bodies put so much pressure on them that breathing becomes impossible.

“As people struggle to get up, their arms and legs twist. The blood supply to the brain is starting to reduce,” G. Keith Still, visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England, told NPR after the Astroworld crowd surge in Houston last November. “It takes 30 seconds for you to lose consciousness and about six minutes, you are in compressive or restrictive asphyxia. This is a commonly attributed cause of death — not crushing, but suffocation.”

WHAT IS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING SWEEPED INTO A GROUP OF PEOPLE?

Survivors tell tales of how they gasped and were pushed deeper under an avalanche of flesh while others, desperate to escape, clambered over them. Being nailed to doors that won’t open and fences that won’t give.

“Survivors described being gradually squeezed, unable to move, their heads ‘snapped between arms and shoulders … faces gasping in panic,'” reads a report after a 1989 swarm at the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, England killed nearly 100 Liverpool fans. “They were aware that people were dying and they were helpless to save themselves.”

WHAT CAUSES SUCH EVENTS?

At a Chicago nightclub in 2003, a crowd began after security forces used pepper spray to break up a brawl. Twenty-one people died in the resulting crowd. And this month in Indonesia, 131 people were killed when tear gas was blasted into a semi-closed stadium, causing crowds at the exits.

In Nepal in 1988, a sudden downpour drove football fans towards locked stadium exits and resulted in the deaths of 93 fans. In the recent incident in South Korea, some news outlets reported that the rush came after a large number of people rushed to a bar after hearing an unidentified celebrity was there.

But Still, the British professor who has testified as an expert witness in crowded court cases, pointed to a variation on the age-old example of someone shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema. He told the AP last year that what lights the fuse of such a security rush in the US more than any other country is the sound of someone yelling, “He’s got a gun!”

WHAT ROLE DID THE PANDEMIC PLAY?

The stadiums are filling up again. Throughout the pandemic, teams have taken some creative steps as games have progressed to make things look somewhat normal. Cardboard cutouts of fans were placed in some of the seats and crowd noise was injected – a sports version of a laugh track from a comedy show.

But now the masses are back and the danger has returned.

“Once you put people in the mix there’s always a risk,” Steve Allen of Crowd Safety, a UK-based consultancy involved in major events around the world, told AP in 2021.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/south-korea-seoul-stampede-halloween/12395413/ Explainer: How and why do crowd surges turn deadly?

Alley Einstein

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