Hong Kong awoke to tragedy on January 1, 1993: “20 Dead In Crush Of New Year Revellers”, ran the front-page headline of the South China Morning Post.
“Up to 20 people were reported to have been killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede involving some of the 20,000 in Lan Kwai Fong in Central for New Year celebrations last night,” the story continued. “The crush occurred when people surged out into the streets from the district’s restaurants and bars as the countdown to midnight was being broadcast live on TVB.
“At the stroke of midnight, the crowd cheered and threw beer on one another, apparently causing some of them to panic and start pushing and shoving. The worst casualties occurred at the junction of Wellington Street and Wing Wah Lane where a slope and some steps caused people to trip under pressure.”
Witnesses at a Wan Chai hospital described dozens of ambulances depositing the injured in corridors while 20 ambulances were said to have ferried 31 of the injured to Queen Mary Hospital. At the scene, “a large number of people were shocked and dazed and a lot of them were crying. The streets were littered with articles of clothing, jewellery, boots, cans and bottles,” following “one of the worst civil disasters in Hongkong’s history”.
In what appears to have been a lapse in judgement by editors at the newspaper, the same story continued with a round-up of the night’s joyous events.
“At the Nethersole Hospital in Mid-Levels, the first baby of the year was a 3.06 kg boy […] Elsewhere, party-goers took advantage of a pleasant 17-degree Celsius temperature to flock to the streets and ring in the New Year […] At the Hilton Hotel, 550 revellers boogied the night away ...”
Lady Rebecca Purves, the Post reported, had fired the gun overlooking Victoria Harbour in celebration of 1993 and the knighthood awarded to her husband, Sir William Purves, in the New Year Honours List.
“Lady Purves said after the firing: ‘Everybody was cheering me on and I was afraid I was a minute late. But William thinks I was early.’”
Elsewhere, events of a more sobering nature were unfolding, the Lan Kwai Fong death toll eventually being confirmed at 21.