Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Eight students killed, 26 injured in stampede at private school in China

AP , BEIJING

A policeman yesterday investigates, where junior-high school students stampeded on Monday in Xiangxiang, China.

PHOTO: AFP

Eight youths were killed and 26 injured when students descending a crowded staircase after evening classes at a school in central China lost their footing amid a crush of bodies, state media and the local government reported yesterday.

Students were rushing out of evening study sessions at 9:10pm on Monday at Xiangxiang city’s private Yucai Middle School when some lost their footing and began to fall on top of one another in a stampede on the steps.

More than 400 students had been exiting classrooms via an enclosed stairwell just 1.2m wide, a state broadcaster CCTV said.

The dead were listed as seven boys and one girl, aged 11 to 14, while eight other students were hospitalized with serious injuries, a local government notice and Xinhua news agency said.

CCTV footage shot five hours after the tragedy showed a puddle of blood in a corner of a landing in the darkened, tunnel-like stairwell.

“I just can’t describe how I feel,” school guidance counselor Chen Xinwei told the station. “You see these students so full of life and then they’re just gone in an instant. There’s just no way to process it.”

A notice on the local government Web site posted around noon yesterday said three of the injured had already left hospital and the five others were in stable condition.

Leaders of the city 1,160km south of Beijing immediately removed the head of the education bureau for bearing “leadership responsibility” for the accident, the government said.

The school’s principal and chairman of its board of governors have been placed under a mild form of detention as part of the investigation, said a city government official reached by telephone.

Like many Chinese bureaucrats he refused to give his name.

The official said the education bureau has taken direct charge of the school’s administration and had frozen its bank account.

Reports said some classes were in session yesterday, with students and teachers standing for a moment of silence for the dead and injured students. Photographs showed areas of the school roped off with crime scene tape, although it wasn’t clear if that was due to the investigation or for the students’ safety.

Calls to the school’s listed office number rang unanswered yesterday afternoon.

Xinhua said the 12-year-old school has 3,500 students and is known as one of the city’s best.

Such schools tend to have large class sizes but few emergency exits or other safety features. In addition to regular daytime classes, most feature evening revision sessions that are a standard requirement for advancement in China’s grueling, exam-centered education system.

Despite harsh punishments aimed at forcing improvements, deadly stampedes continue to occur repeatedly in China’s schools, usually as students are rushing to exams or charging out of class down tight corridors and narrow stairwells.

Writing on his blog about Monday night’s deaths, junior-high school teacher Zhang Xiaojun from Gansu Province said campus safety awareness was confined mainly to slogans and ran a distant second to academic achievement in the minds of educators and students.

“The school’s end-all, be-all is quality of education, which is to say, exam scores. Teachers and students consider scores as something as important as life itself and everything else is secondary,” wrote Zhang, who teaches at the Zhangye school in Gansu.

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