Blasts rock Tianjin, killing 50

The aftermath of the two explosions – so massive they registered on earthquake measurements and could be seen from space – in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.
The aftermath of the two explosions – so massive they registered on earthquake measurements and could be seen from space – in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Explosions rip through warehouse storing 'dangerous, chemical goods'; over 700 hurt

Two powerful blasts that set the night sky on fire rocked the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 700 in the latest industrial disaster to hit China.

The huge explosions on Wednesday night ripped through a warehouse that stored "dangerous and chemical goods" in Binhai, an area of the city near the port, according to the official Xinhua news agency, shattering windows on scores of buildings kilometres away.

"It was a huge fireball that kept getting bigger and bigger. It turned the entire sky red and shook our building violently," said Mr Gao Shenghong, 25, who lived in a dormitory about 2km from the site.

He suffered an abrasion on his forehead and cuts on his knee as the shockwaves shattered his windows and threw him across the room.

The number of casualties rose throughout the day, including 12 firefighters sent to put out fires in burning shipping containers near the warehouse just minutes before the blasts. Over 70 people are critically hurt, the Tianjin government said on its microblog. Dozens remain missing, including 18 firefighters.

Hundreds continued streaming into the city's hospitals for injuries ranging from broken bones to cuts and abrasions. There were fears the smoke-filled air in the city was poisonous and many residents were seen wearing masks on the streets.

Officials were unable to say what triggered the initial fire or subsequent explosions - so massive they registered on earthquake measurements and could be seen from space.

About 6,000 residents are expected to be forced from their homes, officials said at a press conference. They played down concerns of potentially toxic air, saying all harmful gas indicators had fallen back to the normal range by 11am yesterday.

However, toxic sodium cyanide was found in city sewers late yesterday, the Tianjin Firefighting Command Centre said. President Xi Jinping demanded the authorities "make full effort to rescue and treat the injured and ensure the safety of people and their property".

Police in Tianjin have pointed to Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, a private firm licensed to handle hazardous cargo, as the owner of the warehouse.

According to the People's Daily, the firm's top official has been detained for questioning. Reuters, citing the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration, reported that the firm violated packaging standards during a safety inspection two years ago.

Xinhua said 1,000 firefighters and 143 fire engines were deployed to the site, bringing the fire "under initial control" by yesterday afternoon. A 217-strong specialist nuclear, bacteriological and chemical warfare military unit was also sent to help with the clean-up operation.

China has a poor industrial safety record. In 2013, a pipeline explosion at state-owned oil refiner Sinopec's facility in the eastern port of Qingdao killed 62 people and injured 136.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Blasts rock Tianjin, killing 50'. Print Edition | Subscribe