Velandia was separated from her friend, Carolina Cano, 21, from Mexico, and began to feel the weight of other people’s bodies crushing her. “At some point, my feet didn’t even touch the ground anymore,” she said. “There was an unconscious guy on top of me, which was affecting my breathing.”
Velandia concentrated on taking shallow breaths through her mouth as her lungs began to feel as if they were being crushed. People around her were screaming for help or calling the police, she said, but then grew quieter as her body weakened above and below her. Trapped in a pile of people, she reminded herself, only her neck could move freely while the rest of her body was restrained.
“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to be next.’ I really thought he was going to die,” she said. “I was completely paralyzed. At some point, he couldn’t feel my legs. He couldn’t even wiggle his toes.”
She was stuck like that, unable to feel parts of her body, until a young man standing on a raised ledge grabbed her by the arms and yanked her out of the crowd. She said that she was then able to look at her phone and saw that it was 10:57 pm
After a few minutes, feeling began to return in her legs. Even then, “there were so many unconscious bodies on the ground that I couldn’t even walk,” she said.
He managed to get home, but on Sunday he developed a fever and spent four hours in the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea, where he was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition involving muscle damage and necrosis. as the cells, in Velandia’s case, in the leg, begin to die. the Muscle tissue releases protein 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 her bedroom on Monday, she said the pain has gotten worse. One leg is swollen and bruised, and she cannot put her entire foot on the ground while she walks.
Even now, his chest hurts if he breathes too deeply.
Ali Asgary, a disaster and emergency management expert at York University in Canada, said crowd disasters are complicated and not well understood.
“Injuries and deaths in these situations can be caused by a combination of factors working together,” he said in an email. Those factors include the density of people, how strong the walls are, whether the floor is uneven or how narrow the space is, she added.
Other safety experts have reported restrictive asphyxiation, head trauma, and rib fractures as possible causes of injury or death in crowd crushes. And the difficulty authorities often have in evacuating the injured or providing prompt medical care can make matters worse, according to Rohini Haar, an emergency physician who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “Unfortunately, once a crush starts, it’s hard to stop it.”
According to Velandia, many people were trying to move bodies to clearer ground to perform CPR as he escaped the crowd on Saturday night. Some people who appeared to be lifeless had vomit in and around their mouths, suggesting they had drowned, she said.
She found her friend, Cano, who had borrowed a stranger’s cell phone to call her. The two met in front of Itaewon Station, the place where so many partygoers had started their Halloween night.
“We hugged each other and 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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