Shanghai Halts New Year Festivities After Fatal Stampede

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Shanghai Cancels New Year Celebrations After 36 Die in Stampede
A man and a woman pray after laying flowers at the site of a deadly stampede in Shanghai, China. Photographer:Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

Shanghai called off New Year’s events and the national government demanded a review of crowd-safety procedures after 36 people were killed and dozens injured in a deadly stampede on Shanghai’s historic Bund last night.

At least 47 people were injured, the People’s Daily reported on its Weibo service. The stampede -- Shanghai’s deadliest disaster since 2010 -- started about 11:35 p.m. as tens of thousands of people crowded into the riverside district for a light show.

Early this morning across the metropolis of 23 million, families rushed to hospitals seeking news of missing relatives and friends searched for those they had lost in the chaos.

“He went to the Bund last night and I was unaware that he was missing until I got call from our father at 4 to 5 a.m.,” said Hu Wenying, who was looking for her younger brother at the Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital, the largest near the Bund. “We still haven’t found him,” she said, her eyes bloodshot from crying.

Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered an investigation and told local governments to prioritize safety ahead of the upcoming mass celebrations for the Lunar New Year. All other New Year’s events have been canceled due to the accident, the official China News Service reported.

Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng said the municipality would review the planning of large events, especially those in densely crowded places, according to statement posted on its official microblog.

Malaysian Victim

At least three events were canceled, including a 3-kilometer “charity” run and a light show scheduled for tonight in the city’s downtown area, according to the websites of the Xinmin Evening News and the Shanghai government.

Shanghai officials had earlier canceled a public countdown event in the Bund area along the Huangpu River, according to a Dec. 31 Shanghai Morning Post report posted on the city’s website.

A Malaysian national was among those killed, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The victim was a university student, and efforts are underway to contact relatives, according to a statement from the ministry that didn’t identify the person. The dead, many of whom were students, included one Taiwanese, CCTV said on Twitter.

Profound Lesson

A profound lesson should be learned from the stampede incident as many places will hold festival gatherings and recreational activities for the Lunar New Year and the following Lantern Festival, Xi was cited as saying by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The lunar holiday officially starts Feb. 18 and lasts a week.

At Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital, a student who declined to give his name said he was visiting from Hangzhou with classmates and saw the stampede, which he said started on stairs to a pedestrian platform along the river. He said he saw people fall and lost sight of his friend but found the friend’s phone.

Chaotic Atmosphere

Tens of thousands had flocked to the Bund to see a light show put on by the Oriental Pearl Tower across the river.

“It was about 10 times as crowded as usual,” said Zhang Ying, a flower seller who was near the site at the time of the accident and saw ambulances arrive, said at Chen Yi Square. “I couldn’t even get to the Bund side of the road as people were just jam-packed.”

Around 11:20-11:30 p.m. there was an unusual surge in the size of the crowd with people unable to move, China National Radio reported, citing a briefing by the Huangpu district police. About 500 police officers were dispatched to the area, police were cited as saying.

One person in the crowd last night said the atmosphere turned chaotic after what appeared to be money started falling from above -- coupons that looked like U.S. dollar bills thrown from a building window across from the square, Xinhua reported. People rushed to toward the building and some fell over in the scramble, it said.

Peace Hotel

The reason for the accident was under investigation, according to staff at the Shanghai government media office who asked not to be named when contacted by Bloomberg News.

The site of the stampede is across from the Peace Hotel, one of the many pre-World War II buildings that run along the Bund, Shanghai’s most popular sightseeing spot.

Yesterday’s disaster was the city’s deadliest since a high-rise apartment building fire in 2010 that left 58 people dead. Inadequate surveillance and shoddy work standards in the city’s construction industry were the cause of that inferno, according to then-Shanghai Mayor Han, who has since been promoted to the city’s party secretary.

In Hong Kong, on New Year’s Eve 1993, 20 people, mostly teenagers, died and 71 were injured in a stampede in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district, the South China Morning Post reported.

— With assistance by Gregory Turk, Allen Wan, and Jing Jin

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