Lantern Festival Stampede Kills 37 in Beijing
2004-2-6 15:20:40     CRIENGLISH.com
A Chinese Lunar New Year lantern and fireworks display ended in disaster Thursday night when at least 37 people died and 15 others were injured. The tragedy occurred in Miyun County, about 65 kilometers north of downtown Beijing, which is the site of one of the largest reservoirs in China and a key supply of water to the Chinese capital.

Revelers had gathered at Mihong Park for the annual Red Lantern Exhibition. Hundreds of spectators were packed on a metal, rainbow-shaped bridge decked out with ribbons and pictures of monkeys. At 7:45 p.m., tragedy struck. 26-year-old Wang Sheng was there:

"Someone tripped in a crowded area and suddenly fell down on a grate in the overcrowded park bridge and started a chain reaction. There was a stampede. People were crushed or trampled. And I heard a lot of people crying for help." 

"What touches me the most is that many people volunteered to help frantic parents search for their children in the freezing night air. I also joined the rescue team. All that was left after the bodies were taken away was scattered clothes and shoes."

The witness also says most of the people killed were women and children, some as young as seven years old. And many of the victims were suffocated to death when trapped in the crowd.

Right after the disaster, doctors and emergency crews rushed to the spot. Zhou Renping is from the Red Cross China:

"In the shortest possible time, we gathered some 20 ambulances and 40 medical workers to help rescue victims, and immediately transported the injured to the People's Hospital of Miyun County."

Quan Xianghongis the President of the Hospital:

"All I have to say is that the injured are in good hands now. Some of Beijing's best doctors are here, taking care of the patients. Some patients are in critical condition. We'll try our utmost to save their lives."

A special investigation team has been set up to find out how the accident happened, and to make suitable arrangement for the families of the dead. And a city-wide safety check is under way to stop similar safety loopholes. Police are still working at the scene of the accident. Lao Shi is with the local police: 

"It was the second annual lantern festival at the park. Due to safety reasons, the bridge was not open for visitors last year. And we had warned the park officials that the railing on the bridge seemed too low. But they didn't do anything about it."

Authorities say some 400 people have been killed in car accidents, and hundreds badly injured by firecrackers and fireworks across the country during this year's Lunar New year festivities. Authorities say safety loopholes always appear at such joyful moments. The central government has urged local officials at all levels to further strengthen safety management and work to enhance people's awareness of safety issues.

Cheng Hao, CRI News.

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