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

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Juliana Velandia Santaella took pictures of young women dressed as bananas, hot dogs and french fries on the streets of Itaewon at 10:08 p.m. Saturday. Then she decides to go home and walk down a narrow alley where she will narrowly escape death.

The 23-year-old medical student from Mexico began to feel squeezed by the crowd, which slowly pushed hundreds of people downhill in an alley that became the epicenter of an accident that killed at least 154 people and injured 149. Her injuries, which sent her to the emergency room and are still debilitating, show what can happen during a dangerous crowd squeeze.

Velandia separated from her friend, 21-year-old Mexican Carolina Cano, and began to feel the weight of other people’s bodies on her. “At some point, my feet didn’t even touch the ground anymore,” she said. “There was a comatose guy on top of me and it affected my breathing.”

Vilandia focused on shallow breathing through her mouth as her lungs started to feel like they were being squashed. People around her were screaming for help or calling the police, but gradually fell silent as their bodies weakened above and below her, she said. Trapped in a crowd, she recalled that she was only able to move her neck freely while the rest of her body was restrained.

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“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to be next.’ I really thought I was going to die,” she said. “I was completely paralyzed. At some point, I couldn’t feel my legs. I couldn’t even move my toes.”

She was so stuck, unable to feel parts of her body, until a young man on an elevated stand grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the crowd.She said she could then look at her phone and see it’s 10:57pm

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

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She managed to get home, but on Sunday she had a fever and spent four hours in the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital, Catholic University of Korea, where she was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition involving muscles The disease begins to die as cells become damaged and necrotic — in Velandia’s case, in the legs. 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 her kidneys for damage. In her dorm room on Monday, she said the pain got worse. One leg was swollen and purple, and he was unable to put his entire foot on the ground while walking.

Even now, her chest hurts if she breathes too deeply.

G. Keith Still, a crowd safety expert and visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in the United Kingdom, told The Washington Post that compression, or restrictive asphyxiation, is the likely reason why most people die in crowd squeezes. It takes people about six minutes to get into this state if their lungs don’t have room to expand.

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“People don’t die of panic,” he said. “They panic because they’re dying. So what happens is when the body falls, when people fall over each other, people struggle to get up and you end up with your arms and legs twisted together.”

As she fled the crowd, many tried to move the body to a cleaner location for CPR, according to Verandia. She said some of the lifeless-looking people vomited in and around their mouths, suggesting they were suffocating.

She found her friend Kano, who borrowed a stranger’s cell phone to call her. The two met in front of Itaewon Station, where many party lovers started their Halloween night.

“When we saw each other, we hugged and cried a lot because we really thought each other was dead,” Verandia said. “It’s a miracle we’re still alive, really.”

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