Shanghai stampede: 'Like hell on earth'

Rescuers help victims of a stampede by New Year revellers on Shanghai's historic riverfront on January 1, 2015. A stampede by New Year's revellers in Shanghai's historic riverfront area killed 35 people and injured dozens more, the city government said January 1.

"Five, four, three, two, one!" shouted the crowd at the Bund in Shanghai, drowning the desperate cries of those watching medics giving cardiac massages to people lying on the ground.

The cheering crowds didn't know that a stampede had occurred at the nearby Chen Yi Square shortly after 11:30 pm, resulting in 36 deaths and 47 injuries, 13 of them serious and life threatening.

Guo Xianzhong, a reporter from Southern Metropolis Daily in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, witnessed the tragedy close up.

He wrote that steps near Bund 19 that lead to a viewing platform were massively over-crowded, with some people trying to ascend while others moved in the opposite direction.

Sensing danger, Guo managed to climb onto a 2-meter-high wall, and with the aid of a number of others, he pulled a few people to safety.

"At 11:34 pm, someone at the foot of the steps suddenly fell down. People nearby tried to lift them up and told the people at the top of the steps not to push and squeeze. But their shouts were drowned by the noise of the people coming down. More and more people were pushed down. It started to get out of control," he said.

"At 11:40 pm, some young people on the wall called on people to shout 'Back off! Back off!' and make some gestures. The people at the top of the steps finally understood the situation and stopped moving down."

Guo recalled that an ever-increasing number of police officers rushed to the scene around 11:50 pm, and tried to drag out people who were pinned under the crowds.

It wasn't until 11:55 pm that people who had fallen but weren't badly hurt could stand up. "However, those lying on the ground seemed to be dead," Guo said.

"There was a hail of cries, screams, and shouts for ambulances. The corner by the Huangpu River was like hell on Earth."

The injured were sent to four hospitals in Shanghai. Relatives looked for their loved ones in helpless anxiety.

A mother of a 27-year-old man had gone to three hospitals before she arrived at the Shanghai General Hospital to look for her missing son. She didn't find him, so she waved some information about him in her trembling hands and asked people what to do.

Another anxious mother had been frantically calling her missing daughter's cellphone, but her calls went unanswered. She and her husband rushed to the hospitals from their home in the Baoshan district.

"I've checked the pictures of the dead. But I can't tell from the deformed faces. We haven't found my daughter. I don't know what to do now," she said. Many relatives of the dead and injured said the government hotlines were permanently busy.

A man surnamed Zhao was waiting for the results of treatment on an injured colleague who had been sent to the Shanghai General Hospital.

"I joined the New Year's count-down before, but there seemed to be fewer people to maintain order this time," he said.

"The place was so crowded. Suddenly someone fell down and people started to flow down the steps. I grabbed a loudhailer from a policeman nearby and told people near the fallen not to push and shove," he said.

"My colleague was pinned down and it took me more than 10 minutes to pull her out. She was already badly hurt. The police could have reacted more quickly," he added.