BEIJING (DPA) – Police in Shanghai underestimated the number of New Year's Eve revellers on the city's waterfront, officials and state media said Friday, as the number of injured rose to 49 and the death toll stood at 36 from the crush earlier this week.
"Police failed to expect the number of people for this event," Shanghai's Huangpu branch police Deputy Commander Cai Lixin was quoted as saying by by the China News Service.
State-run Xinhua said the authorities had shown a lack of vigilance, in an opinion piece citing an expert.
"This wasn't about capability" of the security forces, Zhang Hong, an expert on security management at the People's Public Security University of China in Beijing, was quoted as saying.
Rather, the government had dropped its guard in preparing for the celebrations Wednesday night, the piece said.
Dozens were crushed to death after panic broke out 25 minutes before midnight, when crowds trying to move up a staircase clashed with others trying to move down it, news reports said.
Authorities had cancelled the annual light show amid concerns over the numbers expected at the city's waterfront, or Bund, which had been increasing each year.
But news of the cancellation failed to reach or deter the crowds, news reports said, estimating around 100,000 to 150,000 people gathered at the scenic spot to ring in the New Year.
Officials declined to give a figure, but Deputy Commander Cai said crowds were larger and police fewer than at the most recent October 1 national holiday celebrations, speaking late Thursday at a press conference that did not include foreign journalists.
The crowd was "increasing irregularly" at 11:30 pm, he said, expressing regret for the failure by police to intervene effectively.
About 500 police were mobilized when surveillance cameras showed a passageway near Chen Yi Square had become congested, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Because the crowd was so large, it took police longer than usual, about 5-8 minutes, to get to the scene, Cai said.
Police forced their way to the centre of the crowd and found people in "physical discomfort," he said.
A dozen police officers helped evacuate the injured after the crush and cleared a passage for ambulances, said Wang Qiang, another policeman at the press conference.
Dollar-style paper coupons thrown from a nearby nightclub, originally blamed for sparking a frenzy, did not cause the tragedy, police said Thursday.
Video surveillance showed a few people stooping to pick up the paper, but without any stampede, the police said on Weibo, a microblogging site similar to Twitter.
The coupons were tossed into the air around 60 metres from the deadly crush, but at least 15 minutes after the incident began, it said.
But the flyers did at least add to the chaos, one witness told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Asked why the crowds were not kept away altogether, Cai said, "The Bund is a public area. Numbers cannot be limited except in emergency situations.
"That would also need to be announced in advance to the public."
The China National Tourism Administration on Thursday demanded that tourist spots across the nation introduce improve their crowd-control measures.