SHANGHAI — Grieving relatives identified the bodies of loved ones a day after a stampede during New Year’s celebrations along Shanghai’s historic waterfront area killed 36 people. Some families lashed out at authorities, accusing them of being unresponsive to their plight and failing to prevent the disaster.
The chaos began about a half-hour before what was supposed to be a joyful celebration of the start of 2015. In the end, dozens were dead and 47 people were hospitalized, including 13 who were seriously injured, according to the Shanghai government. Some of the victims had suffocated, said Xia Shujie, vice president of Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital.
Seven of the injured had left hospitals by Thursday afternoon.
The stampede’s cause was still under investigation. It happened at Chen Yi Square in Shanghai’s old riverfront Bund area, famed for its art deco buildings from the 1920s and 1930s. Throngs of people often jam the area during major events.
A day after the tragedy, some criticized the government, blaming it for failing to keep order at the city’s most popular site and for miscommunications with victims’ relatives.
“We were told my sister was still being rescued the minute before we were taken to the morgue, where she had been lying dead — clearly for a while,” said Cai Jinjin, whose cousin Qi Xiaoyan was among the dead. “There she was, cold and all by herself.”
Other victims’ relatives complained that authorities failed to notify them of the deadly stampede and had been unresponsive to their requests for information. In one case, relatives of 24-year-old victim Pan Haiqin said they were alarmed after Pan’s employer reported a no-show at work on Thursday, and after traveling hours to Shanghai, got no answers from authorities before they finally were able to confirm Pan’s death.
At one of the hospitals where the injured were being treated, relatives tried to push past guards, who used a bench to hold them back. Police later allowed family members into the hospital.
A grieving mother dragged a low-ranking municipal official out from a government compound, demanding answers.
Police at one hospital brought out photos of unidentified dead victims, causing dozens of waiting relatives to crowd around. Not everyone could see, and young women who looked at the photos broke into tears when they recognized someone.
A saleswoman in her 20s, who declined to give her name, said she had been celebrating with three friends. “I heard people screaming, someone fell, people shouted ‘don’t rush,’” she said. “There were so many people and I couldn’t stand properly.” She added that she still could not contact one of her friends.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted a woman with the surname Yin who was caught with her 12-year-old son in the middle of crowds of people pushing to go up and down steps leading from the square.
“Then people started to fall down, row by row,” Yin said. When her son was finally brought to safety, he had shoe prints over his clothes, “his forehead was bruised, he had two deep creased scars on his neck, and his mouth and nose were bleeding,” she said.
One Taiwanese was among the dead, and two Taiwanese and one Malaysian were among the injured, the Shanghai government information office said.
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.
Steps lead down from the square to a road across from several buildings.
“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.”
Xinhua quoted witness Wu Tao as saying some people had scrambled for coupons that looked like dollar bills bearing the name of a bar that were being thrown out of a third-floor window. But police dismissed speculation that the coupons had triggered the stampede, saying they were thrown after the tragedy.
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 canceled, 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. The city apparently did not expect that so many people would assemble there and was not adequately prepared.
Associated Press writer Louise Watt in Beijing and news assistant Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed to this report.