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  • Writer's pictureOrina Ontiri

Shanghai: dozens killed and injured in stampede at new year celebrations

A New Year’s Eve celebration in Shanghai ended in disaster when a stampede left at least 36 people dead and nearly 50 others injured, marking one of the biggest disasters to befall a major Chinese city in recent years.

The stampede began at about 11.35pm in Shanghai’s Chen Yi Square, a wide promenade popular with tourists between a row of historic art deco buildings and the Huangpu riverfront, according to China’s state newswire Xinhua.

Witnesses told Agence France-Presse that the mayhem centered on a stairway leading up to a viewing platform overlooking the river. Some people were trying to climb to the platform as others tried to get down, causing panic and mass confusion.

“People were screaming, women were screaming and people starting jumping off the staircase to get clear,” a Shanghai resident named Sarah said. “There was a quiet, and then people on the stairs fell in a wave and people started to get trampled.”

A video posted later by the newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily showed dense crowds pushing to descend a low staircase, causing some people at the front to topple under the weight of the crowd. At 11.40pm, the crowd began to chant “fall back,” which appeared to momentarily ease the crush and the panic. By 11.55pm, enough people had cleared away from the staircase to reveal a few people lying on the ground amid scattered rubbish.

A photo taken with a smartphone of people pushing each other as they try to escape a stampede on the Shanghai riverfront. Photograph: ZHOU MIAOCHEN/EPA

The dead include 25 females and 10 males, most of them students and “young people in their 20s”, Xinhua reported. The youngest was 16. Among the injured are three Taiwanese people and a Malaysian, the People’s Daily said in a microblog post. Seven people have left the hospital, while another 40 are still undergoing treatment. At least 13 of them are in critical condition.

“We were caught in the middle and saw some girls falling while screaming,” a witness surnamed Yin told Xinhua. “Then people started to fall down, row by row.”

Dead and injured were taken to at least three hospitals throughout Shanghai. The city’s Ruijin Hospital has treated 10 injured people, “most of whom have pulmonary contusion and bone fractures,” the state broadcaster CCTV reported. “Those patients are not in stable condition but some are dealing with psychological trauma from the incident.”

Pictures and videos posted to Chinese social networking sites showed chaotic scenes in the wake of the stampede — crowds packed against police lines, long rows of ambulances, medical workers treating people who lay supine on the ground.

People being treated at the scene after the stampede in Shanghai’s historic riverfront area on New Year’s Eve. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Image

“CPR was being given to 10-15 people in the street by loved ones whilst police stood by and watched,” English tourist Rebecca Thomas from Manchester told the BBC. “I asked a police officer if I could help and was told to move along. I saw a man giving his wife or girlfriend mouth-to-mouth on the floor whilst police watched.”

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, urged Shanghai authorities to “do everything in their power” to treat the injured and to investigate the cause of the incident, state media reported. Shanghai’s Communist party secretary Han Zheng and mayor Yang Xiong have visited the injured in hospital.

Eyewitnesses also said that the stampede may have began after revellers scrambled to pick up fake money appearing to advertise a promotion for a nearby club was thrown from a building overlooking the street. Those accounts remain unconfirmed.

An 18 year-old witness surnamed Huang told the news portal Sina: “I’ve seen people saying that the stampede happened because people were throwing fake money. But I don’t think that’s the main reason — there was so much distance, there’s no way the money could have blown over to the viewing platform.”

Chinese media article w pics of what may be the fake bills thrown into the crowd in #Shanghai …

Videos online showed relatives of the dead and injured packed into hospital waiting rooms, anxiously awaiting updates from harried medical workers. “Many relatives have asked to go inside and asked the hospital to give us a list of the injured, including the conscious and unconscious ones who are being treated in there, but nobody got back to us,” a woman surnamed Fan told Reuters.

Angry family members clash with security personnel in a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year’s revellers were sent in Shanghai on January 1, 2015. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Shanghai Daily reported that Shanghai cancelled an annual laser light show, which last year attracted 300,000 onlookers, because of “crowd control issues”. The newspaper said that a more “toned down version of the celebration” was held throughout the city this year.

Most large gatherings in China are carefully controlled by authorities but the country has seen other incidents in which overcrowding has caused panic and deaths.

Last year, 14 people – some of them children – were killed and 10 injured in a stampede that broke out as food was being distributed at a mosque in China’s Ningxia region.

Also last year, six students were killed in a stampede at a primary school in Kunming city in the southwest after the accidental blocking of a stairway corridor.

Shanghai’s Bund riverfront runs along an area of narrow streets amid restored old buildings, shops and tourist attractions. The China Daily newspaper in February reported that the city’s population was more than 24 million at the end of 2013.

Global Radio Network

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