Shanghai stampede: At least 36 killed, 47 injured at countdown party; rush for fake money to blame, say witnesses

Light and laser illuminate the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong in Shanghai during a light show as part of a New Year countdown celebration on the Bund in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Light and laser illuminate the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong in Shanghai during a light show as part of a New Year countdown celebration on the Bund in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Angry family members clashing with security personnel in a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Angry family members clashing with security personnel in a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Security personnel and policemen manning their posts at an entrance to the hospital where injured people of the stampede were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Security personnel and policemen manning their posts at an entrance to the hospital where injured people of the stampede were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A friend of a victim waiting outside a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A friend of a victim waiting outside a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives of a victim waiting at a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives of a victim waiting at a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident were treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A photo on the website of the Shanghai Daily newspaper showed what appeared to be dead and injured people lying on the ground with crowds still in the background. -- PHOTO: SCREENGRAB OF SHANGHAI DAILY
A photo on the website of the Shanghai Daily newspaper showed what appeared to be dead and injured people lying on the ground with crowds still in the background. -- PHOTO: SCREENGRAB OF SHANGHAI DAILY
Angry family members clashing with security personnel in a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Angry family members clashing with security personnel in a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
A family member (centre) cries on a bench at a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year's revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
A family member (centre) cries on a bench at a hospital where some of the victims of a stampede by new year's revellers were sent in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Relatives wait at a hospital where people injured in a stampede are being treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives wait at a hospital where people injured in a stampede are being treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives wait at a hospital where people injured in a stampede are being treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Relatives wait at a hospital where people injured in a stampede are being treated in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
This overhead view shows people being treated at the scene after a stampede by new year's revellers in Shanghai's historic riverfront in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
This overhead view shows people being treated at the scene after a stampede by new year's revellers in Shanghai's historic riverfront in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
An overhead view showing emergency vehicles (centre) amongst the crowd after a stampede by new year's revellers in Shanghai's historic riverfront in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
An overhead view showing emergency vehicles (centre) amongst the crowd after a stampede by new year's revellers in Shanghai's historic riverfront in Shanghai on Jan 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China's top leaders have ordered officials to provide assistance and investigate thoroughly a stampede at a New Year's Eve countdown party in Shanghai that left at least 36 people dead and 47 injured.

The cause of the stampede has yet to be confirmed, but local media and witnesses said the tragedy was caused when people tried picking up fake money thrown from a building.

Those killed included 10 males and 25 females aged between 16 and 36 years old, state media reported. One more person was reported dead on Thursday afternoon but the gender was not known. Those injured include three Taiwanese and one Malaysian.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Straits Times: "Our Consulate General in Shanghai is monitoring the situation. There are no reports of any Singaporean involved in the incident."

Singaporeans in Shanghai who require consular assistance can contact the Singapore Consulate General in Shanghai at +86-13801949439 or Ministry of Foreign Affairs (24-hours) duty office at +65-63798800.

The incident took place at 11.35pm local time on Wednesday along the historic Shanghai Bund, where some 150,000 people reportedly gathered at the waterfront Chen Yi Square and the surrounding areas to welcome the new year.

Shanghai stampede on the Bund

Chaos erupted after fake money was thrown down from a nearby Bund No. 18 building located along the adjacent Nanjing East Road, according to eyewitnesses. Photographs on the Internet showed what appeared to be US currency notes scattered on the ground. The notes turned out to be vouchers issued by a recreation club.

Chinese media and netizens are now hunting for the possible culprit and have zeroed in on a female blogger, who had allegedly boasted about how she was going to "throw money away" in a posting made at 11.30pm and stamped with the Bund No. 18 location, just before the tragedy struck.

But she denied throwing the fake money in a subsequent blog posting and refuted accusations that she had caused the stampede. "I've reported to the police and hope they will return us justice! I'm stressing: Do not harass my family and friends," she wrote.

Media reports indicated that Shanghai residents had rushed to the scene to provide help. But one survivor named Xu Ping, 23, told reporters that she had to hail a cab to send her severely injured friend to a hospital. But after a short distance, the taxi driver chased them out of his vehicle, saying it was too inauspicious for him.

Questions have also been raised about the adequacy of safety measures at the Shanghai countdown event, which was among many that took place across China on Wednesday night. Shanghai has cancelled all New Year celebration events after the stampede.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have instructed officials to provide utmost assistance to the victims and their families and to do a thorough investigation into the likely causes.

"During the coming Chinese New Year period, many places will hold public events with large crowds. We need to make public safety the top priority, ensure meticulous organisation and adequate safety preparations to prevent similar incidents," Mr Xi said on early Thursday morning, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Observers say the tragedy could add political pressure on Shanghai party boss Han Zheng, 60, a member of the Communist Party's Politburo who was deemed lucky by some to have survived the fallout of his former boss and then-Shanghai chief Chen Liangyu in 2006 over a corruption conviction.

Mr Han and Shanghai mayor Yang Xiong reportedly rushed to the hospitals at around 3am and met with survivors and families, many whom were in an agitated state.

Photographs showed families in a standoff at one hospital with police officers who used a row of chairs to block them from entering cordoned-off area.

Hong Kong-based political analyst Joseph Cheng thinks the incident would be seen as an embarrassment to the top Chinese leadership on a night when Mr Xi had pledged to improve lives for the Chinese people in his second year-end televised message.

But Mr Han and the Shanghai government are "sophisticated enough to do the right things" such as visiting families and promising thorough investigations" to minimise any adverse political impact, added Prof Cheng.

"Also, Han Zheng is probably at the peak of his political career and so he hasn't shown excessive political ambition and is not seen as a threat to others. That might help him," he said.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg