White Flowers for Shanghai’s Bund After Deadly New Year Stampede

The streets alongside Shanghai’s riverside Bund area looked similar to any city after a night of New Year revelry: Streamers and confetti scattered in gutters. The white flowers were there for another reason.

The celebration to see in 2015 in China’s financial capital saw thousands of people, many of them students, packed into the narrow streets along the river on a cold winter’s night. The festivities took a terrible turn just before midnight when a stampede was set off.

Thirty-six people were killed and at least 48 injured at Chen Yi Square in the chaos that followed. Police took hours to clear the scene as pictures on social media showed people lying motionless on the street or being taken away to hospital.

By early morning the streets were largely clear, save for silver balloons still tied to railings along the Bund, an area known for its chic bars and restaurants and facing the skyscrapers of Shanghai’s Pudong financial district. Near a statue to Chen Yi, the first mayor of Shanghai after the Communists took over in 1949, someone had left a bunch of white flowers.

A security guard standing nearby said the flowers were laid on the grass in front of the statue this morning in memory of those killed in the melee. At least 10 black and white police cars patrolled roads in the area, with iron bars erected today to prevent people falling over railings along the Bund walkway onto paths below.

Gao Xiangyu, a university student from neighboring Kunshan city, came to Shanghai to run errands and was among those walking around the Bund today.

Stampede Investigation

“I learned the news this morning,” Gao said. “I am not so shocked by that as many places in China are very crowded like this and the Chinese like to go to crowded places.”

The Bund was part of the former Shanghai International Settlement and runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River that bisects the city. Historic buildings located on the Bund include the former Shanghai headquarters of HSBC Ltd., which was founded in Hong Kong and Shanghai in 1865.

The district underwent a three-year makeover as the city spruced up ahead of the World Expo, which was held in 2010.

President Xi Jinping ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the stampede and called for the Shanghai government to prioritize safety ahead of the Chinese New Year festival next month.

Fake Money

The official cause of the incident is under investigation, according to staff at the Shanghai government media office who asked not to be named when contacted by Bloomberg News. Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng said the city will review the planning of large events, especially those in densely crowded places, said in a statement posted on its official microblog.

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, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. People rushed toward the building and people fell over in the scramble, Xinhua said.

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

After clearing a route, police cars transported injured people as ambulances hadn’t yet arrived, China National Radio said.

Drinks Seller

By early afternoon, people were again strolling around the popular sightseeing spot on the riverfront. Some bars were closed, including those inside a building called Bund 18 opposite Chen Yi Square. A waiter who didn’t give his name said the M18 bar inside the building was shut for a planned redecoration after being open yesterday.

Mr and Mrs Bund, a bar and restaurant on the sixth floor of the building, was also shut. A notice on the door said it was undergoing renovations.

At the square, a man selling beverages from a van who gave his name as Sun said his business had not been affected.

Sun was selling drinks when the stampede happened and was unable to leave the area until 2 a.m. He said he couldn’t work out what was going on last night because there were too many people there to see clearly.

“The lesson we’ve learned from this is that we should avoid places with too many people during festivals,” said Gao, the university student visiting from Kunshan city.

— With assistance by Shidong Zhang

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