Shanghai Officials Fired Over Stampede That Killed 36
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
On New Year's Eve in mainland China's showcase city Shanghai, three dozen people died in a stampede. Today, four local officials were fired for failing to prevent that. Investigators say that instead of monitoring crowds that night, officials enjoyed an opulent banquet at a Japanese restaurant. NPR's Frank Langfitt has the latest on Shanghai's biggest tragedy in years.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The Communist Party chief and director of Shanghai's Huangpu district were both sacked, as were the two top police officials in the district where the stampede occurred. Investigators say that as huge crowds packed Shanghai's riverfront, the district's top officials were busy chowing down at a banquet. Shanghai's vice mayor, Zhou Bo, spoke at a news conference today.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ZHOU BO: (Through interpreter) We are extremely pained, guilty and we blame ourselves.
LANGFITT: Investigators described a series of blunders that led to the crush, which also injured 49 people. District officials canceled the popular New Year's Eve light show, but only announced the change the day before and in a way that only confused people. Then police failed to deploy anywhere near enough officers. Again, Vice Mayor Zhou.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
BO: (Through interpreter) It happened at Shanghai's important landmark, the Bund. The party and people gave such an important city to us to manage. We should use all our efforts, hearts and energy to protect citizens' lives and property.
LANGFITT: The Bund is Shanghai's colonial-era waterfront. It sits across from a stretch of futuristic skyscrapers that are often featured in Hollywood movies, like the James Bond film "Skyfall" and "Mission Impossible II." But on New Year's Eve, crowds there spun out of control, as captured on this cell phone video.
(SOUNDBITE OF CELL PHONE VIDEO)
LANGFITT: People surged up the staircase to the promenade to see a light show they didn't know had been canceled, while another crowd tried to push down the same staircase. Lu Zhenyu, who works for a sports company here, was caught in the middle and nearly crushed to death.
LU ZHENYU: (Through interpreter) I saw with my own eyes a girl in front of me who was shouting, stop pushing, stop moving. Later, she became completely motionless. She appeared to have stopped breathing.
LANGFITT: Lu, 26, said there were few police around. After 10 minutes, the crush subsided, leaving dozens lying on the ground, some bleeding from the mouth and nose.
ZHENYU: (Through interpreter) There was a girl whose face was trampled. Her entire face was beyond recognition. Though she was still able to stand, there were scars all over her face as if she'd been beaten up.
LANGFITT: Lu says the girl survived. Many victims' family members have been holed up in local hotels, waiting for answers and compensation. Shanghai officials have told them not to talk to the news media. But one, surnamed Wu, did today. He said he was disappointed with the news conference.
WU: (Through interpreter) Did they give any details? No. Actual questions including compensation to victims' families? Nothing has been discussed. Nothing is different from the day when the tragedy happened. I'm totally unsatisfied with what they said.
LANGFITT: Among the dead New Year's Eve was Li Xiang, who was 26 years old. The son of a banana farmer, he graduated from Xiamen University, one of the country's finest. Li moved to the city of more than 24 million people a couple of years ago to work in the paper pulp business. His cousin, also named Li, said Shanghai hasn't lived up to its reputation.
LI: (Foreign language spoken).
LANGFITT: "The speed with which they handled this has been too slow and too inefficient," he told me. "Shanghai is an international metropolis, but the way they've managed this is even slower than our local government."
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.