Sat, Feb 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Stampede at festival near Beijing kills 37

HOLIDAY TRAGEDY A Lantern Festival celebration in Mihong Park outside the town of Miyun turned into a disaster when the crowd swamped a narrow bridge

AP , MIYUN, CHINA

Blood stains yesterday mark the site of a stampede which left 37 people dead on a bridge in Miyun, north of Beijing.

PHOTO: AP

China's senior leaders promised yesterday to investigate a stampede at a lantern festival north of the capital that killed 37 people who were celebrating the end of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Many of the victims suffocated, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Fifteen were injured and reported to be in stable condition yesterday, according to a local official who gave only her surname, Wang. Another nine were treated for "slight injuries" in the morning, Beijing city spokesman Wu Kun said.

Revelers were crowded onto a bridge at a popular park in the northern Beijing suburb of Miyun County late on Thursday when someone tripped and triggered a chain reaction, Wu said yesterday.

Officials from President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) down expressed "deep concern," and the mayor of Beijing and the region's Communist Party chief went to the scene to supervise. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) ordered a thorough investigation into what happened and why.

The quick involvement of top men from China's new generation of leaders reflected their promise to keep the people safe -- whether it be from economic downturn, subversion or preventable disasters.

"The safety and the stability of the capital is an overwhelming political task," Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan (王岐山) said at an emergency telephone conference with local leaders yesterday.

"The government at all levels must learn lessons from this accident and carry out thorough inspections to find hidden dangers that might cause future accidents," he said.

Details of the conference were released in a faxed statement from the city. Wang also ordered safety inspections of public places including hotels, supermarkets, cinemas, parks and train stations, the statement said.

Thursday's accident occurred at 7:45pm in Mihong Park just outside the town of Miyun when one person fell down on a bridge and panic ensued, Wu said.

According to the People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, "thousands of people" were watching the festival when the crowd stampeded.

Local media showed photos of the injured, including a young boy, his face bruised and blue, who reportedly survived after being unconscious for three hours. The identities of many victims remained unconfirmed yesterday morning, though most were believed to be local residents.

At the park, the size of four football fields, about 200 people gathered around the bridge yesterday morning to quietly watch police take measurements. The concrete-and-metal bridge, arched over a frozen river, was blocked off and appeared damaged; it was littered with jewelry, bits of broken plastic and dried wax from lanterns. Darkened red lanterns hung outside the park.

Ge Jing, a street vendor who hawks roast meat, said he feared for his family as early as Thursday afternoon because the park and the bridge were filling up rapidly with people.

"It didn't feel very stable. I told my wife and child not to come," he said.

Inside nearby Miyun County Hospital, bodies lay covered with white sheets in the lobby early yesterday. Distraught relatives emerged through the main doors and told of the heartbreaking sight.

"It's a horrible scene in there. There are more than 30 dead bodies inside," said Zhao Jingfu, whose sister-in-law died.

"My heart is in pain," he said, fighting back tears. Others emerging, who didn't give their names, said there weren't enough doctors to treat the injured.

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