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December 9, 2009

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8 young pupils die, 26 hurt in stampede on school staircase

EIGHT youngsters were confirmed dead and 26 others injured after a stampede at a central China school, local authorities said yesterday.

Students and teachers at the privately run Yucai Middle School in Xiangxiang, a small city in Xiangtan, Hunan Province, were in tears and stood in silent tribute before classes began yesterday to remember the dead and pray for the injured in Monday night's tragedy.

The campus remained gloomy, with students exchanging worried looks and anxious parents peeping in to make sure their children were doing well.

Many teachers continued working after a sleepless night. "It's like a nightmare," said school official Chen Xinwei. "It's hard to believe those children are gone forever."

Seven boys and a girl, aged from 11 to 14, were killed and another 11 were hospitalized after the stampede about 9:10pm, following a study session.

Pupils were surging toward a staircase to go downstairs to their dorms when a girl tripped and caused dozens to lose their balance and fall.

A student who survived said he saw two boys standing hand in hand and blocking the staircase linking the third and fourth floors.

"Someone shouted at them, and they let us through, but they played the trick again at the staircase leading to the first floor, and someone stumbled," the student said.

The injured students were being treated at three hospitals in Xiangxiang. As of 11am yesterday, three were allowed to go home.

Another eight were under observation.

A pupil, 14, said he was still traumatized.

"I had walked down to the third floor when I saw many students huddling together further down the stairs. Then seven or eight of them stumbled and fell to the bottom of the staircase," he said in a ward at the People's Hospital in Xiangxiang.

He also felt those behind him shoving hard and he was about to fall. "I supported myself with my right hand to avoid injury, and my head leaned against someone's feet. Another student fell on top of me," he said.

He was not seriously injured, but had many bruises on his face.

"Nearly all the injured students had similar bruises on their faces, necks and chests," said Dr Tang Zhenhua. "These are a result of the crush."

A 12-year-old was the most serious of the eight cases at the People's Hospital, suffering a fractured skull.

"I tried to turn back and take another way, but the crowd behind me pushed me forward," said the first-year student who regained consciousness yesterday morning.

The blood-stained staircase linking the first and second floors where the tragedy happened is less than 1.5 meters wide. The area was cordoned off by police on Monday night.

A joint investigation teamcomprising safety, public security and procuratorate officials is investigating the accident. The team said initial inquiries pointed to students' lack of safety awareness and self-control, narrow stairs, poor supervision and a lack of emergency drills.

Police have detained the school principal, surnamed Ye, and frozen the school's bank account, a spokesman for Xiangxiang's public security department said.

Early yesterday the city's education chief, Zhu Qinghua, was removed from his post and officials said anyone responsible for the accident faced similar or more serious penalties.

Deputy education chief Liu Xiangping has temporarily taken charge of the school, and the local government of Xiangxiang is working on a compensation scheme.


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