Shanghai, Jan 2: Thirty-two of 36 people killed in New Year eve stampede at Shanghai's iconic waterfront area have been identified, authorities said on Friday, as Chinese media and public criticised the administration's failure to prevent the tragedy that marred the gleaming financial hub's image.
Police ruled out the possibility that the massive trampling at the Bund was caused by people rushing to pick up fake money thrown from a building overlooking the city's famous waterfront. The Shanghai Municipal government has published the identity of 32 victims on its microblog, with the rest yet to be identified.
Among them, the youngest was a 12-year-old boy while the oldest was 37. Among those identified, 21 were female. A total of 25 women, mostly young college graduates, were killed in the incident.
In an unusually critical commentary, the official Xinhua news agency said the latest disaster "served as a wake-up call that the world's second-largest economy is still a developing country which has fragile social management".
"Even for a metropolis like Shanghai, which leads in modern management nationwide, loopholes still exist," it said.
The government could not shake responsibility for what happened, the news agency said, raising questions as to why there were apparently so few police personnel on duty for the massive crowd thronging the area, that witnessed nearly 300,000 people turning up for last New Year's Eve. "It was a lack of vigilance from the government, a sloppiness," it said.
Police also admitted that they underestimated the number of people who would turn up. Many residents said the number of police at the scene was lower than that deployed on National Day because the government had not organised any formal event in the square. But the crowd was larger than expected, deputy commander of the Huangpu district police station Cai Lixin said.
The condition of 13 of the 47 injured, including a Malaysian tourist, was stated to be serious. Police investigations determined that the coupons with the name of the local Bar M18 printed on coupons resembling USD 100 currency which were reportedly thrown from a building at the Bund was not the cause, state-run CCTV reported.
Shanghai police microblog said that an investigation has been found that the coupons were thrown at 11:46 pm local time by when the stampede was already triggered. However, investigations still focused on what caused the tragedy just before the New Year countdown.
Besides Hong Kong, that is run as a separate territory, Shanghai is China's most international and cosmopolitan city, home to global companies and aims at becoming a world financial centre by 2020.
At least three witnesses said there was no crowd control near the stairs where the stampede broke out, Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post reported.
According to a man who returned to M18 to pick up his lost phone, some people did throw coupons out of the windows, but some just threw the "banknotes" into the air above their heads when the bar was filled with about 200 people, the Shanghai Daily reported.
Shanghai has organised gala shows on the western bank of Huangpu River for new year countdowns in previous years, with a strong police presence on the riverside to control crowds and maintain order.
Witnesses said that in past years, hundreds of police officers, some armed, stood watch in the area during the celebrations, preventing crowds from walking on the terrace.
Shanghai police did not state how many police officers were at the scene at the time of the stampede, saying only that they sent 500 officers to help disperse the crowd at about 11:30 pm when they noticed the crowd on the stairs was not moving. It took between five and eight minutes for the police to reach the staircase and it was already too late when they arrived, Eastday.com quoted police as saying.
There was no official estimate of the revellers in the area and estimates by mainland media varied between 100,000 and 150,000 people. People today gathered at the Bund to mourn the victims of the tragedy. The Shanghai government has cancelled the lightshow and other major New Year celebration activities.
Survivors recounted the horrific experience when the brightest night turned into the darkest minutes before midnight. Zuo Zhijian, a survivor, said: "You can't imagine this: you are suspended over the ground. Someone behind you grabs your hair to stand up. Right there in front of you, a girl begs you to save her life and says she is dying, while another just lies motionless."
"Two dozen people were lying on the ground with bags, cellphones, shoes and scarves scattered around," Zuo said.
China's top tourism authority made an urgent call to beef up precautionary measures against surging tourist numbers during holidays after the stampede. The National Tourism Administration (NTA) has called on the government to step up the security arrangements, improve emergency response plans, and take strict measures to control tourist flows at scenic spots as the country braces for Chinese New Year Holiday falling next month during which millions visit the scenic spots.
NTA said under China's Tourism Law, scenic spots are obliged to inform tourists and report to the local government when tourist numbers could potentially exceed their maximum reception capabilities, so that measures could be taken to timely divert tourists in order to insure security.