A New Year’s Eve stampede at one of the most iconic tourist spots in China’s massive city of Shanghai has left at least 36 people dead and more than 40 others injured.
Shanghai authorities say the stampede occured on a stairway at the popular riverfront area or Bund as it is called, which has expansive views of the city’s skyline.
According to reports by Reuters, police on Thursday rejected the claim made by some witnesses that the tragedy — the worst disaster in China's business capital since an apartment-building fire claimed 58 in 2010 — was triggered by a grab for fake cash that was thrown from the roof of a building overlooking the site.
State media say the chaos began less than half an hour before midnight. Video footage posted on China’s Yoku website showed scores of revelers pinned on a stairway that lead up to a riverfront platform.
Police, Onlookers Yelled
As police and onlookers yelled at the crowd, urging people to move back, individuals could be seen collapsing and crushing one another.
The crowd gradually dispersed, but for some it was already too late.
At a news conference Thursday, Cai Lixin, deputy director of the Huangpu Public Security Bureau Command Center told reporters the back up occurred on the steps as some tried to go up and others wanted to come down.
Cai says the crowd was so big that those in back did not know what was going on in front of them and pushed forward. He says that with both pressing against each other it was easy for such a (stampede) to occur.
Cai says police deployed some 500 personnel to the scene.
Cui Tingting says she witnessed what happened. She was horrified by what she saw.
Cui says that the scene was too cruel with people stepping over others who had fallen to the ground. She says it was not like this was a terrorist attack where you needed to run to save your life, people just needed to leave.
Cui, like other witnesses confirmed seeing fake dollar bills on the ground at the time. "I had indeed picked up a bank note from the ground but had thrown it away. I think it was probably at least one cause of the disaster," Cui said.
Some say the bills were thrown from a bar on the Bund and that individuals bending over to pick them up may have led to the tragedy, a cause police have since dimissed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a thorough and swift investigation into the incident.
Authorities say 13 of the 40 injured are still in serious condition. Doctors say that some had their chest, head or abdomen’s crushed during the stampede. State media say that many of those killed were students and that most were women.
Shanghai’s Bund is home to a historic row of buildings that date back to the city’s pre-communist party days. The buildings are home to upscale restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.
Photos posted on social media at the time showed massive crowds. In one photo, a sea of New Year’s revelers surrounded cars parked in the street as if they were swallowing them up.
Other photos showed how police had to join hands to keep the surging crowds back and clear a way for ambulances to carry away the injured. They were taken to four different hospitals in the city.
The English-language Shanghai Daily recently reported that a popular laser light show celebration on the riverfront was canceled this year. Authorities say crowd size was a concern. Last year, 300,000 attended the show.
The cancellation, however, did not keep the crowds away.
In Beijing, authorities canceled a celebration outside the tallest building in the city just before midnight. Colorful lights that had lit up the building and the city's skyline were turned off when authorities began to worry that the crowd had become too large.
Some information for this report comes from Reuters.