At least 36 people have been killed and dozens injured after a stampede broke out during New Year's celebrations in the Chinese city of Shanghai, state-run media has said.

Citing Sina News, CCTV America said the the cause of the stampede on the Bund, the financial hub of Shanghai's popular waterfront area, was unclear.

At least 48 people were also injured, reports said.

It was very crowded. I almost couldn't breathe and I heard someone behind me call for her help, and someone scream. It was a total mess.

Jenny Chan, tourist from Hong Kong

Jenny Chan, 24, visiting from Hong Kong for New Year at Chenyi Square on the Bund, told Al Jazeera: "I was heading up to the viewing platform in order to see the light show.

"But there were so many people, I couldn't put my feet down on the steps. People behind me kept pushing.

"I could hardly move and I felt as though I was dangling in mid air.

"It was very crowded. I almost couldn't breathe and I heard someone behind me call for her help, and someone scream.

"It was a total mess. Someone pulled my hair. I think they were trying not to fall down.

"Someone brought out a loudspeaker and tried to maintain the order. On the ground I could see blood and bodies, and some people's faces were covered in bruises.

"I've never felt so near death."

Speculation

US national Andrew Shainker said that "it was impossible for emergency services to get in there given the people and chaos".

"We saw people on the opposite side of the street pushing - people trying to go up and people trying to go down. We heard screams of panic," Shainker, who teaches English in the city, told AFP news agency.

Pictures posted on social media showed huge crowds surrounding people lying on the ground in the middle of the street.

Local media say witnesses reported earlier seeing coupons, which at first glance looked like dollar bills, being thrown into the crowd which triggered the stampede.

Pictures of the coupons have appeared on social media and a news portal.

However, police dismissed speculation that the coupons had triggered the stampede, saying they were thrown after
the crush.

Authorities had earlier cancelled a New Year's countdown with a 3D laser display at the Bund due to crowd concerns, the Shanghai Daily reported last week.

The event had been growing in popularity for three years, but last year's turnout of some 300,000 people far exceeded authorities' expectations, the report said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies