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Canadian recalls ‘pandemonium’ in South Korean district where 150 died in stampede

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SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — A Canadian in Seoul says he’s had trouble sleeping since witnessing tens of thousands of people crowding into side streets and alleys in the city’s nightclub district on Saturday, a scenario that led to the crushing death of more than 150 people.

Matthew Clement said he avoided the narrowest streets in Itaewon on Halloween after experiencing dense throngs of people in previous years that made him fear for his life.

“In the past I’ve felt overwhelmed. It’s terrifying,” he said in an interview from Seoul. “It was very difficult to move or even control your movements.”

He is among many trying to make sense of the fatal stampede that South Korean officials have said killed 156 in the capital city.

South Korea’s National Police Agency has acknowledged that Seoul police failed to act for hours despite receiving at least 11 emergency calls from pedestrians warning about a swelling crowd of Halloween revellers getting out of control ahead of the crush.

Clement moved to South Korea 20 years ago to teach English and spent the past 18 years living in Itaewon, although he moved out of the neighbourhood just a few weeks ago. He returned on Halloween to perform two DJ sets.

Itaewon seems to draw a bigger Halloween crowd each year, he said, likening the feeling to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with the streets as much of a party venue as the bars.

“It’s become almost a destination, especially for younger adults, university students and so forth, as a place for them to dress up like on Halloween and have a wonderful time. Over the last five, 10 years it has exploded in size,” he said.

Clement arrived around 7:30 p.m. to DJ at a small lounge and was surprised to see that even smaller streets that were empty in previous years were filled with people. When his set was over at 9 p.m., he said it was already “pandemonium.”

He did another set at a different venue and when he finished, standing on a rooftop, he watched an ambulance go by on the street below.

“We saw it, and then another, and another. And I think we probably counted at least 20 ambulances racing by,” he said.

He tried to make a phone call but it didn’t work, he said, assuming everyone making calls at the same time had jammed the phone and internet networks.

Rumours flew about what was going on and Clement said his gut feeling turned out to be true.

“What I suspected happened did happen, but I could never have believed it would have been this bad,” he said.

Clement said he also saw police racing past and spoke with people who told him they’d seen dozens of bodies on the ground.

Ultimately, he said he walked out of the district and arranged a place for his wife to come pick him up. The subway system had shut down, so plenty of other people did the same.

The tone was strange, he said, with some people realizing the severity of what happened and others oblivious.

“Half the people were devastated, you know, you can see people who had physically been right there, they had to walk through that area, and you can see people who were traumatized,” he said.

“On the other hand, I think there were some people who had no idea what really happened.”

Clement, who teaches English and business at a university, said he has learned of a few people in his circles who died in the crush.

“I’ve been quite emotional,” he said. “This is my home, this is my community. These people represent my friends, my students, my neighbours,” he said, adding the predominant feeling is sadness.

“There’s a little anger there too, because this shouldn’t have happened. The authorities knew people were coming. We needed their protection, they needed protection.”

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver with a file from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

 

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More evacuation orders in B.C. as heat wave aids lightning-triggered wildfires

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Several lightning-triggered wildfires have forced authorities in British Columbia to issue evacuation orders as the province’s southern and eastern regions swelter in a heat wave.

The BC Wildfire Service says the Island Pond fire about 17 kilometres south of Canal Flats, B.C., in the East Kootenay, was discovered Saturday and grew to 1.2 square kilometres overnight.

The Regional District of East Kootenay has declared a state of local emergency and issued an evacuation order for two addresses as a result, and has also warned another 65 properties to be prepared to leave on short notice.

Meanwhile, the Cariboo Regional District ordered residents on 29 parcels of land in the Kuyakuz Lake area covering 923 square kilometres to evacuate immediately, with five out-of-control wildfires burning nearby — four of which were confirmed to be lightning-caused.

The new evacuation orders come as the Shetland Creek fire about eight kilometres north of Spences Bridge, B.C., is holding at about 150 square kilometres in size.

The BC Wildfire Service dashboard says about 87 per cent of the more than 300 blazes burning in the province have been caused by lightning.

All evacuation orders and alerts linked to the Shetland Creek blaze in B.C.’s Thompson-Nicola region remain in place for communities such as Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Spences Bridge and the Ashcroft First Nation.

In the Central Kootenay, the community of Silverton, B.C., is on alert while 107 properties south of the village are under an evacuation order due to the nearby Aylwin Creek wildfire.

Aylwin Creek and nearby Komonko Creek remain at a combined size of 6.5 square kilometres, and Highway 6 south of Silverton remains closed due to wildfires burning nearby.

Environment Canada says the latest heat wave broke or matched the daily high-temperature records in 14 B.C. communities on Saturday, with Lytton reaching a high of 41.2 degrees — breaking a record of 40.6 degrees set in 1946.

Temperature records also fell in the B.C. communities of Cranbrook, Merritt, Princeton, Trail and Vernon, with all five communities reaching at least 36 degrees.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

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Why Ontario Premier Doug Ford is at war with the LCBO – BBC.com

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Why Ontario Premier Doug Ford is at war with the LCBO  BBC.com

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U.S. President Joe Biden steps aside as Democratic candidate, ending re-election bid

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WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is removing his name as the Democratic candidate in the November election following weeks of mounting pressure over the 81-year-old’s mental acuity and ability to win the faceoff with Republican rival Donald Trump.

Biden says it has been his greatest honour to serve but he believes it is in the best interest of his party to stand down and focus solely on fulfilling his duties as president for the rest of his term.

Growing numbers of Democrats were urging Biden to drop out following a disastrous debate performance against Trump and multiple missteps on the world stage during the recent NATO leaders’ summit in Washington.

Biden told supporters Friday he was ready to get back on the road this week after recovering from COVID-19, which he contracted during a critical time for his campaign.

Biden criticized Trump’s acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, saying it presented a dark vision for the future, and indicated he would forge ahead with his own campaign.

But he issued a social media post on Sunday afternoon saying he would not be running, adding he will speak to the nation and provide more detail later this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

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