Friday, 2 January 2015

Grieving relatives ID bodies after China stampede

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.

Thirty-two of 36 people killed in New Year eve stampede at Shanghai's iconic waterfront area have been identified, authorities said today, as Chinese media and public criticised the administration's failure to prevent the tragedy that marred the gleaming financial hub's image.

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 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.

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.

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, 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.

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.

Saturday 2 January 2015

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