Thirty-five people died in a stampede during New Year’s celebrations in Shanghai’s historic waterfront area, city officials said Thursday – the worst disaster to hit one of China’s showcase cities in recent years.
A Shanghai government statement said another 43 people were injured amid the chaos about a half-hour before midnight.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed witness as saying people had scrambled for coupons that looked like dollar bills that were being thrown out of a third-floor window. It said the cause of the stampede was still under investigation.
The deaths and injuries occurred at Chen Yi Square, which is in Shanghai’s popular riverfront Bund area, an avenue lined with art deco buildings from the 1920s and 1930s when Shanghai was home to international banks and trading houses. The area is often jammed with spectators for major events.
On Thursday morning, dozens of police officers were in the area and tourists continued to wander by the square, a small patch of grass dominated by a statue of Chen Yi, the city’s first Communist mayor.
Police stood guard at Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital, where many of the injured were being treated. Earlier, desperate relatives had tried to push past guards at a hospital, state media photos showed. Guards had to use a bench to hold them back.
CCTV America, the U.S. version of state broadcaster China Central Television, posted video of Shanghai streets after the stampede, showing piles of discarded shoes amid the debris.
One photo from the scene shared by Xinhua showed at least one person doing chest compressions on a shirtless man while several other people lay on the ground nearby, amid debris. Another photo showed the area ringed by police.
“We were down the stairs and wanted to move up and those who were upstairs wanted to move down, so we were pushed down by the people coming from upstairs,” an injured man told Shanghai TV. “All those trying to move up fell down on the stairs.”
Last week, the English-language Shanghai Daily reported that the annual New Year’s Eve countdown on the Bund that normally attracts about 300,000 people had been cancelled, apparently because of crowd control issues. The report said a “toned-down” version of the event would be held instead but that it would not be open to the public.
The stampede appeared to be near that area.
“Some people have fallen,” Shanghai police soon warned on Weibo, a Twitter-like service, and they urged people to obey police and leave the scene without pushing.
The Shanghai city government released photos online showing the mayor hurrying into a local hospital to visit victims.
Meanwhile, Xinhua’s top story on its website was not the stampede but President Xi Jinping’s New Year’s message. Xinhua’s story in Chinese remained just two paragraphs long hours after the disaster.
The China Daily newspaper in February reported that the city’s population was more than 24 million at the end of 2013.
(Associated Press reporter Louise Watt contributed from Beijing.)
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