CHINESE POLICE CHECK BELONGINGS OF VICTIMS LEFT ON A FOOTBRIDGE AFTER A STAMPEDE AT A GALA CELEBRATING THE LANTERN FESTIVAL NEAR BEIJING
Guang Niu  /  Reuters
Chinese police examine the belongings of victims left on a footbridge after a stampede at a gala celebrating the Lantern Festival on the outskirts of Beijing Thursday.
updated 2/5/2004 3:04:15 PM ET 2004-02-05T20:04:15

At least 37 people were killed and 15 others injured Thursday when a crowd stampeded during a holiday gathering outside the Chinese capital on the final day of the country’s Lunar New Year celebrations, the government said.

Officials, including President Hu Jintao, expressed “deep concern” and ordered an investigation. The mayor of Beijing was at the scene supervising.

“This is a very serious incident,” said Wu Kun, a spokesman for the Beijing city government. “There could even be more people dead. It’s still a very confusing scene up there.”

Many of the victims suffocated in the accident in Miyun County, an extreme northern suburb of the Chinese capital, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Wu said it occurred at 7:45 p.m. in a popular gathering spot called Mihong Park near the town of Miyun when someone tripped in a crowded area, causing a chain reaction.

“One person fell down on a grate in the park and caused many people to fall down. There was a stampede,” Wu said. “It was a lot of people. I’m not sure how many. These things are packed,” he told The Associated Press early Friday.

“All of the tourists in the lantern exhibition have departed safely,” he said.

By early Friday, the sprawling park — the size of four football fields — was dark and virtually deserted. There was no visible presence of police, emergency personnel or injured people. Darkened red lanterns hung outside the park.

Beijing Mayor Liu Qi, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo, went to the park, and Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local authorities to find out how the accident happened and “to try their best to save the injured and make suitable arrangement for the families of the dead.”

Miyun County is about 45 miles north of central Beijing and is the site of Miyun Reservoir, one of the largest reservoirs in China and a key water supply for the Chinese capital. It is technically within the administrative limits of Beijing, a large district that includes the city and surrounding areas.

The Lantern Festival is a celebration that marks the last night of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Chinese have been celebrating Lunar New Year since Jan. 22, and Thursday night was a nationwide celebration of lanterns and lights.

Scores of Chinese have been killed in car accidents across the country during the festivities as hundreds of millions travel to ancestral homes and back to cities.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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