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

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Juliana Velandia Santella took a photo of young women dressed as bananas, hot dogs and French fries on the streets of Itaewon at 10:08pm on Saturday. She then decides to go home, going down a tight alley where she narrowly escapes her death.

A 23-year-old medical student from Mexico began to feel squeezed by the crowd, which slowly pushed hundreds more down the alley that became the epicenter of the crash, which killed at least 154 people and injured 149 others. Her injuries, which sent her to the emergency room and are still debilitating, show what can happen during a dangerous group crush.

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 weren’t touching the ground anymore,” he said. “I had an unconscious person on top of me, it was affecting my breathing.”

Velandia concentrated on taking shallow breaths through her mouth, as her lungs began to feel like they were collapsing. She said people around were screaming for help or calling the police, but then they gradually fell silent as his body limped up and down hers. Caught in a crowd of people, she remembers being able to move only her neck free from restraints on the rest of her body.

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“Well, I thought I was going to go on. 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 stuck there, unable to feel her body parts, until a young man standing on a high ledge grabbed her by the arms and pulled her away from the crowd. She was able to look at her phone and saw that it was 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 ground that I couldn’t even 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 the Catholic University of Korea’s St. Mary’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a fatal condition involving the muscles. Injury 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 her kidneys for damage. Speaking from his dormitory on Monday, he said the pain had worsened. One leg is swollen and purple, and she is unable to keep her entire foot on the ground when she walks.

Even now, breathing too deeply causes chest pain.

Crowd safety expert and visiting professor of crowd science at Suffolk University in Britain G. Keith Still told the Post that compression or restrictive asphyxia is the likely cause of most people who die from overcrowding. It takes about six minutes for people to enter this state if the lungs don’t have room to expand.

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

According to Velandia, she escaped the crowd as many people were trying to move the bodies to clear the bodies to perform CPR. Some who appeared lifeless had vomit around their mouths and were suffocated, he said.

She finds her friend Kano, who borrows a stranger’s cellphone to call her. The two met in front of Itaewon Station, where many partygoers began their Halloween night.

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


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