“At some point, my feet weren’t even touching the ground anymore,” she said. “There was an unconscious guy on top of me, which was affecting my breathing.”
Velandia focused on taking shallow breaths through her mouth as her lungs began to feel like they were being flattened. People around her were screaming for help or calling for the police, she said, but then they progressively fell silent as their bodies grew limp above and below her. Stuck in a pile of people, she recalls only being able to freely move her neck as the rest of her body was restrained.
“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 left like that, unable to feel parts of her body, until a young South Korean man who was standing on an elevated ledge grabbed her arms and ripped her from the crowd. She said she was able to then look at her phone and saw that it was 10:57 p.m.
After a few minutes, she started regaining sensation in her legs; at first, “there were so many unconscious bodies on the floor that I couldn’t even walk,” she said.
Velandia’s extensive injuries show what could happen during a dangerous crowd crush. On Sunday, she rapidly developed a fever and spent four hours in the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital at the Catholic University of Korea, where she was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition that involves muscle injury and necrosis as cells begin to die. Speaking from her dorm room on Monday, she said that the pain has gotten worse. One leg is swollen and purple, and she is unable to place her entire foot on the ground as she walks.
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 Britain, told The Post that compressive or restrictive asphyxia is the probable cause for most people who are killed in a crowd crush. It takes about six minutes for people to enter this condition if their lungs do not have room to expand.
“People don’t die because they panicked,” he said. “They panic because they’re dying. So what happens is, as bodies fall over, as people fall on top of each other, people struggle to get up and you end up with arms and legs getting twisted together.”
According to Velandia, many people were trying to move bodies to clearer ground to perform CPR as she escaped the crowd. Some people who appeared to be lifeless had vomit in their mouths and around them, suggesting that they had choked to death, she said.
She found her friend, Cano, who had borrowed a stranger’s cellphone to call her. The two met in front of Itaewon Station, the place where so many partygoers had started their Halloween night.
“We hugged and we cried a lot when we saw each other, because we really thought the other was dead,” Velandia said. “It’s a miracle that we are alive, really.”