Mexican survivor of Seoul Halloween crush feared she’d die in Itaewon


Juliana Velandia Santaella took a photo of a young woman dressed as bananas, hot dogs and French fries on Itaewon street at 10:08 pm Saturday night. Then he decided to go home, descending down a narrow alley where he narrowly escaped his death.

The 23-year-old medical student from Mexico began to feel squeezed by the crowd, which slowly pushed hundreds down the mountain in the alley that became the center of the accident that left at least 154 people dead and 149 injured. His injuries, which sent him to the emergency room and are still debilitating, show what can happen when a crowd crush is dangerous.

Velandia was separated from her friend, 21-year-old Carolina Cano from Mexico, and began to feel the weight of other people’s bodies crushing her. “At some point, my feet didn’t touch the ground anymore,” he said. “There was an unconscious man on top of me, which affected my breathing.”

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Velandia focused on taking shallow breaths through her mouth as her lungs began to feel like they were being flattened. People around him screamed for help or called the police, he said, but they fell silent as bodies mounted above and below him. Stuck in a pile of people, he remembers only being able to move his neck as the rest of his body was restrained.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going next.’ I really thought I was going to die,” he said. “I was completely paralyzed. At some point, I could not feel my legs. I can’t move my toes.”

She was stuck like that, unable to feel any part of her body, until a young man standing on a raised ledge grabbed her hand and ripped her from the crowd. He said he could look at his phone and saw it at 10:57 p.m

After a few minutes, she began to regain sensation in her legs. Even then, “there were so many unconscious bodies on the floor that I couldn’t walk,” she said.

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She managed to make it home, but on Sunday, she developed a fever and spent four hours in the emergency room at St. wounds and necrosis as cells – in Velandia’s case, in the leg – begin to die. Muscle tissue releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood and can damage the heart or kidneys or cause permanent disability or death. On Friday, doctors will check his kidneys for damage. Speaking from his dorm room on Monday, he said the pain had worsened. One leg is swollen and purple, and she can not put all her feet on the ground as she walks.

Even now, his chest hurts when he breathes too deeply.

G. Keith Still, a crowd safety expert and visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England, told The Post that compressive or restrictive asphyxia is the likely cause of most people’s deaths in crowd crushes. It takes about six minutes for a person to enter this state if their lungs do not have room to expand.

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“People don’t die because of panic,” he said. “They’re panicking because they’re dying. So what happens is, when bodies fall, when people fall on top of each other, people struggle to get up and you end up with twisted arms and legs coming together.

According to Velandia, many people tried to move the body to a clearer place to perform CPR as he escaped from the crowd. Some of the apparently lifeless people had vomit in their mouths and around them, indicating they were sick, he said.

He finds his friend, Cano, who borrows a stranger’s cell phone to call him. The two met in front of Itaewon Station, where many parties started on Halloween night.

“We hugged and we cried a lot when we saw each other, because we really thought the other was dead,” Velandia said. “It’s a miracle that we’re alive, really.”


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