Emma Fortier, a junior at Bowdoin College, described coming close to falling numerous times, but managing to stay upright.
A woman on Sunday places a bouquet of flowers to pay tribute for victims near the scene of a deadly accident in Seoul, South Korea, following Saturday night's Halloween festivities. Credit: Ahn Young-joon / AP

It didn’t take long for Emma Fortier, a junior at Bowdoin College, to realize things were getting dangerous in Seoul’s popular Itaewon district Saturday night.

The Orono High School graduate and daughter of Susan Young, the Bangor Daily News’ opinion editor, is spending a semester abroad studying at Seoul’s Yonsei University. She and a friend were part of a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 packed into the narrow street for the Halloween festivities.

It is a popular event in Seoul, and it was the first time Itaewon’s restaurants, clubs and bars had thrown the party in three years. But the party atmosphere turned lethal after the crowds of party-goers suddenly surged. The crush killed at least 153 people, including at least two Americans.

“Itaewon is pretty much all one street, and it was just dangerously packed [and] you couldn’t move at all,” Fortier texted to her family in Maine after she was back in her apartment. “We were just pushed along with the crowd and crammed against everyone and people kept tripping in the crowd.”

Fortier described coming close to falling numerous times, but managing to stay upright.

“If you fell you would just get trampled because no one can stop,” she said. “I climbed up a side wall and jumped down the side of a giant structure behind a building.”

Fortier then negotiated sidewalks full of people and streets full of cars to make it to the subway station before it closed.

Though she left before the crowd surge became fatal, she described a street that was already covered in shoes that had fallen off others trying to leave and whose feet had become tangled.

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge, according to the Associated Press. One survivor reported people were falling over one another like dominoes after being pushed. Others told of being trapped for more than an hour waiting for emergency responders to get through the crowds.

Fortier said that representatives from Yonsei University and her teacher had reached out to make sure she was safe.

“Pretty crazy to read news like this and have actually been a part of it,” Fortier said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated how many Americans died in the Saturday night crowd surge at a Halloween celebration in Seoul, South Korea.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.