Security guards hold a line to keep relatives away from the emergency area in a hospital where some of the injured from the stampede were admitted. (Xing Zhe/EPA)

Stampeding crowds at a New Year’s celebration in the heart of Shanghai killed at least 36 people and injured 47, authorities said.

The stampede occurred shortly before midnight, at 11:35 p.m., at the Bund — a waterfront area that is one of Shanghai’s most popular tourist landmarks. Emergency crews were dispatched and the wounded sent to four hospitals in the city, officials said in a short statement posted on the city government’s social media account.

A third-floor store on the Bund threw down what looked like U.S. bills and people rushing to pick them up contributed to the panic, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. But the bills were actually a coupons printed to look like currency.

But witnesses at the New Year’s celebration said the hordes had swollen to unsafe proportions even before the coupon incident.

“They just kept letting more and more people onto the Bund,” said Scott Moskowitz, 31, a Princeton University graduate student visiting Shanghai. “At first people were just bumping into each other, no big deal, but it got tighter and tighter to where you couldn’t even move left or right.”

Moskowitz said the crowd was so packed that at times his feet were lifted off the ground. He and friends eventually jumped over a retaining wall to escape the surge.

Pictures circulating widely on Chinese social media showed packed crowds along the waterfront, people lying on the ground and others trying to revive them.

Among the 35 killed, most were students. The youngest was 16 and the oldest was 36, Xinhua reported.

Ironically, the annual celebration was supposed to be a dramatically scaled-down affair this year.

A few days earlier, authorities had announced the cancellation of a popular countdown using a 3-D laser display, the Shanghai Daily reported. Instead, several other activities were planned throughout the city.

The countdown event had grown too unwieldy, authorities said. Since it began three years ago, the numbers attending have swelled steadily, from 100,000 to 300,000 last year, according to state media.

The hordes came for a laser display beamed onto historical Bund buildings that culminated in fireworks at midnight.

But as a result of the massive crowds, traffic would snarl to a standstill as early as 9 p.m. Public transportation was inadequate. Crowds of sizable numbers would be stuck for hours, unable to make their way home.