The deaths occurred in the eastern Chinese city’s famous Bund, the riverside area where tens of thousands of people had gathered.
The stampede began after 11:35 p.m. local time in Chen Yi Square, the city said. The exact cause was unclear, but some local news media reported that the release of fliers resembling cash from a nearby building set off a crush of people. The government said the cause was under investigation.
Images posted online showed huge crowds filling the pedestrian areas along the Huangpu River for a midnight light show.
Wu Tao, a man from Anhui province, told the Shanghai-based news website Eastday.com that shortly before the stampede began, the crowd in Chen Yi Square had grown quite large and disorderly.
He said that groups of people pressed against each other as some people tried to make their way to an elevated viewing area, while others tried to make their way down.
About 11:50 p.m., people in a nearby building began dropping green pieces of paper that looked like U.S. 100-dollar bills, which set off a rush, Eastday.com quoted Wu as saying. Photographs posted online showed the fake notes, which bore the words ‘New Year 2015.’
The Shanghai Daily reported that in previous years the New Year’s Eve show was held in a more open area along the Bund. But because of safety concerns, the celebration was moved to a more confined area known as Bund Origin.
Last year, the New Year’s celebrations on the Bund attracted 300,000 people, The Daily reported, an unexpected turnout that surprised local officials and led to traffic chaos.
The injured have been taken to four hospitals, where images on news websites showed crowds of people waiting in hallways. Top local officials – including the Shanghai Communist Party secretary, Han Zheng, and the mayor, Yang Xiong – were shown on local news websites holding early morning meetings and visiting survivors at hospitals.
While such stampedes are infrequent, they sometimes occur during holidays in China, when huge numbers of people gather. In 2004, at least 37 people died in a stampede on a crowded pedestrian bridge during a Lantern Festival celebration in Beijing’s Miyun district.