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Thursday, 1 January 2015

Shanghai Stampede Death Toll Rises to at Least 36; Accounts Differ on Cause............

People leave flowers on the site of the New Year’s Eve stampede on Shanghai’s historic Bund on Jan. 1.
SHANGHAI—The death toll from a deadly New Year’s Eve stampede in Shanghai’s riverfront Bund area rose by one to at least 36 on Thursday, as friends and relatives swamped local hospitals seeking word about missing loved ones.
Another 47 people were injured, authorities said, with the victims predominantly young and female. Photos of the area taken during the celebrations and posted to Chinese social media showed thousands of people packing the area in what is an annual event in China’s financial capital.
“It was utter chaos. There were too many people in a small space,” said Andrew Jordan Shainker, 28 years old, an American teacher in Shanghai who said he watched the stampede unfold from a nearby restaurant at about 11:30 p.m. He said people appeared to continue celebrating even after the stampede.
The cause of the stampede still wasn’t clear as of Thursday afternoon. Chinese PresidentXi Jinping called for a prompt investigation.
Some witnesses said the stampede began between the street and the riverfront, on a series of steps leading to a square named after a former mayor of Shanghai, Chen Yi. One video taken in the area and posted on social media showed people screaming and stumbling as smartphone screens flickered in their hands.
One man at Shanghai’s Chang Zheng hospital, surnamed Zhou, said his fiancée was among the dead. They were both working in Shanghai, and they went to the Bund to celebrate last night.
“We were coming down from the stairs and all of a sudden the people above us started sliding down and pushing all of us down,” Mr. Zhou said. “I lost sight of my girlfriend immediately, and the next thing I knew I was already on the ground. The stampede lasted for about 20 minutes or more.”
“People like us who were down the stairs wanted to go up, and people who were up there wanted to go down,” Shanghai’s Dragon TV showed another witness, an injured male, as saying. “So we were pushed down by people from up there.”
Guo Xianzhong, a reporter for the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper who took the video, also said in an account on the paper’s website that the stampede began at the stairs. He declined to answer additional questions.
Initial reports from official media outlets focused on an area across the street. The official news portal Eastday.com quoted a witness who said people may have been grabbing fake paper money was being thrown to the crowd from above. A woman with the police said the fake currency came from a club called M18 that is on the fourth floor of a building. The fake currency resembles a U.S. $100 note but the club name is inscribed on it.
Management of the club didn’t respond to requests for comment. An M18 employee said the fake bills were decorations stacked on a table at the club and were available to clubgoers. The employee—who said the incident went unnoticed in the club—also said it locks its windows, though another club above it has a balcony.
Earlier Thursday police were scouring a rooftop club several floors up in the same building. At the M18 venue Thursday morning, one of the fake notes lay on the floor at the front door, under a giant mirror ball, along with a party favor resembling a firecracker.
The Eastday portal said officials were treating the injured at four local hospitals. It also showed photos of Politburo member and former Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng and the current mayor, Yang Xiong, in an emergency meeting after the incident.

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Security guards and police square off in the emergency-room lobby of Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital.
A staffer at Chang Zheng hospital surnamed Chen said doctors were summoned back to work from their New Year’s holiday. “The hospital was badly in need of them.”
One man at the hospital said his 26-year-old cousin lost her life. “I rushed here from home to take care of things because her family members were devastated,” he said.
Information was in short supply in the hall of the crowded No. 1 hospital. Sick people lay in beds around the lobby, though many appeared to be overflow patients rather than victims of the stampede. Dozens of police officers were also in the lobby.
A woman with reddened eyes said she was looking for her son who was at the Bund, but she doesn’t know his situation. A man held aloft a photocopy of his son’s photograph.
The riverside midnight-countdown event features a light show over two sides of the Huangpu River and is normally heavily attended along several riverside blocks. Typically, local authorities block off streets from traffic and give revelers a rare opportunity to walk on the wide street in front of the city’s waterfront buildings that date to the early part of the 20th century.
The Bund is one of China’s biggest tourist attractions and one of the most recognizable places in the country, with the neon skyscrapers of the Pudong area across the Huangpu River serving as the backdrop for countless tourist photos. It is home to a number of clubs and night spots, and real estate there is some of China’s most expensive.
People clash with police as they try to visit relatives injured in a New Year's Eve stampede at a Shanghai hospital on Jan. 1. ENLARGE
People clash with police as they try to visit relatives injured in a New Year's Eve stampede at a Shanghai hospital on Jan. 1.
It was unclear from a few blocks away what had taken place on the Bund. Immediately before midnight, the small number of police on one street leading perpendicular to the Bund appeared to struggle to control a crowd that at times surged one way or another, initially running toward the Bund and later away from it.
At one point, an ambulance aiming for the Bund got marooned in the crowd for several minutes as police tried to clear its path.
The countdown event was moved to a new location along the Bund this year because of concerns about a surging crowd in past years, according to local authorities quoted by official media. More than 300,000 attended last year and it led to traffic chaos, according to a report earlier this week in the Shanghai Daily.
The report said the 2015 countdown was scheduled to feature a light show inspired by traditional bronze wares, blue and white porcelain and terra cotta. Another would touch on modern costumes and events held in the city.
The report quoted local police advising people to avoid crowded areas on Wednesday evening.
Local media showed photos of people collapsed on the ground at the intersection of Nanjing Road and Zhongshan East Road, which is marked by a historic building known as the Peace Hotel completed in 1929. Police vehicles were shown on the scene.
The incident recalls the crushing deaths of about 20 people on a hilly Hong Kong street as people there greeted the year 1993. In that incident, wet ground and a slope contributed to the deaths, authorities said.
The situation is also trying for regular hospital patients. Joyce Sun said her family waited much of the day for a bed for her uncle—now in a wheelchair—who suffers from a chronic condition. One may not be ready until the morning, she said. “It’s slower than usual because many doctors are attending to those victims,” she said.
—Rose Yu, Daniel Inman, Shen Hong and Brian Spegele in Shanghai, Colum Murphy in Hong Kong and Yang Jie and Olivia Geng in Beijing contributed to this article.