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Fatal Stampede Dampens Shanghai's New Year Celebrations


The kind of New Year's celebration that people joined around the world overnight turned grim in Shanghai. Thousands of people gathered in Shanghai's Bund, a famous waterfront district, and then a stampede killed around three dozen people. The BBC's John Sudworth is covering the story from Shanghai. Can you just tell us where you are and what you're seeing?

JOHN SUDWORTH: Well, I'm on Shanghai's Bund, Steve, the historic waterfront area. It's one of the sort of iconic parts of this city. Shanghai itself, of course, an iconic showcase city of China. So that this could have happened here at all will cause deep concern. Crowds were gathered here last night. This is a traditional gathering place for the New Year's celebration. Many, many thousands turned out. Around 20 minutes before the stroke of midnight, there was a crush, a stampede. The crowd jammed very closely together between this historic sweep of old colonial buildings and the river, a large space. But nonetheless the sheer volume of numbers meant that that crush turned into a very serious incident, and as you say that dozens of people killed more than 40 injured, some of them seriously, and taken to a number of hospitals.

INSKEEP: Is it clear what would have caused people to stampede?

SUDWORTH: We don't know yet. There is speculation on social media based on eyewitness accounts that it may have been triggered by somebody throwing fake money, basically coupons being used in one of the clubs and bars here to be exchanged for drinks as part of the New Year's celebrations, coupons printed in the form of $100 bills. According to reports from the siege, somebody was throwing those coupons out of the balcony down to the crowd below. And it seems as if at least one possible explanation is that those people rushed forward to try and collect what they thought was real money that caused this stampede. There is no official confirmation of that. The authorities here in Shanghai say they are launching an investigation, but that's one possible cause that I think will be looked at very carefully.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, an element of mystery here because you say this is a place where people traditionally gather. They would've been accustomed to it. The authorities would have been accustomed to controlling the crowds - a very strange event.

SUDWORTH: It's interesting, Steve, because this has been a traditional gathering place, and for the last few years, there's been a sort of an official celebration, an official fireworks display and light show. And last week the Shanghai authorities announced that that part of the celebrations has been canceled this year. It wasn't going to be held out of the concern, we understand, for public safety. There was something like 300,000 people along this riverfront last year. Clearly they felt there that there was a potential for something to go wrong.

So what's interesting is it looks as if somebody had anticipated the possibility of trouble. The official part of the event had been canceled in the hope that it would keep numbers low, but nonetheless, large crowd turned out. And I think the inquiry you'd expect - you would hope perhaps - will ask questions as to whether enough was done to anticipate the sort of numbers who would be here last night and whether the right kind of resources were in place in terms of policing manpower and emergency services to make sure that people were safe.

INSKEEP: The BBC's John Sudworth is in Shanghai. Thanks very much.

SUDWORTH: It's a pleasure Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.