Explained | How and why do crowd surges turn deadly?

It happened during the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, a soccer stadium in England, and a music festival in Houston, where countless people were literally crushed to death by the overwhelming surge of crowds pushing towards the stage or towards the exits.

Once again, in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a multitude of people surged forward on a cramped street like a tightening grip, resulting in the tragic loss of over 140 lives and leaving 150 others wounded.

The risk of such tragic accidents, which receded when venues closed and people stayed home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has returned.

It so turns out that the reason for being here is to witness incidents that went terribly wrong, but without any casualties or injuries. These events are known to attract large crowds where accidents are likely to occur.

In what ways do individuals perish during these gatherings?

The most common cause of deaths in a surge crowd is people who suffocate, suggesting that getting trampled might be the reality while desperately trying to flee crowds, as depicted in movies.

Those who fall and die are standing up because the pressure exerted on their bodies at the top makes it impossible for them to breathe. Drawing breath becomes as easy as something simple. The strong forces that they can bend steel with cannot be seen.

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“The Astroworld crowd surge in Houston last November,” according to NPR, was described by visiting professor Keith G. Still of the University of Suffolk in England as a situation where the blood supply to the brain starts to diminish. People in the crowd were seen struggling to untangle their twisted legs and arms in order to get up.

What is it like to be engulfed in a crowd of people?

Desperate individuals feel as if they are being pushed deeper under an avalanche of flesh, unable to escape as fences and doors won’t give way. Survivors tell stories of gasping for breath, as they try to climb over and escape from being pinned against open fences and doors.

In line with a study following a tragic incident in 1989 at the Hillsborough football arena in Sheffield, England, where almost 100 Liverpool supporters lost their lives due to a crowd surge, “Eyewitnesses recounted being slowly squeezed, immobile, with their heads ‘trapped amidst arms and shoulders…Faces displaying signs of panic.’ They were conscious of the fact that individuals were perishing and felt powerless to rescue themselves.”

What causes such occurrences?

This month, 131 people were killed in Indonesia when tear gas was fired into a half-locked stadium, triggering a crush at the exits. Twenty-one people died as a result of the crowd surge. The surge occurred after security guards used pepper spray to break up a fight at a nightclub in Chicago.

In 1988, during a sudden downpour, soccer fans in Nepal rushed towards locked stadium exits, resulting in 93 fan deaths. Some news outlets reported that a significant number of individuals rushed to a bar in South Korea, causing a crush, after hearing about the presence of an unidentified celebrity.

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In a crowded movie theater, a British professor who has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving age-old examples of variation, pointed to a case where someone shouted “Fire!” Still, in the U.S., He told the AP last year that the sound of someone shouting “Gun!” Is more likely to cause a rush for safety than in any other country.

What impact did the pandemic have?

During the pandemic, teams implemented various creative measures to create a semblance of normalcy, such as incorporating a sports-themed laugh track into comedy shows and positioning cardboard cutouts of fans in select seats. As the games progressed, stadiums are now gradually being occupied once again.

However, presently, the masses have returned, and the peril has resurfaced.

In 2021, Steve Allen, the founder of Safety Crowd, a consultancy-based company in the U.K., Emphasized that there will always be a risk involved when engaging in major events around the world – it is important to consider the diverse mix of people involved.

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