Death toll from Tianjin blasts rises to 123, with 50 people still missing

A People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier of the anti-chemical warfare corps sprays liquid on the debris at the site of last week's blasts in Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, on Aug 21, 2015.
A People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier of the anti-chemical warfare corps sprays liquid on the debris at the site of last week's blasts in Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, on Aug 21, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - The death toll from a series of explosions earlier this month that rocked the northern port city of Tianjin rose to 123, state media reported on Sunday.

Fifty people are still missing and 624 are still in hospital a little more than a week after the blasts, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing local officials.

The explosions at a hazardous goods storage facility on Aug 12 triggered a giant fireball and new fires broke out as recently as Friday.

China's powerful State Council, or Cabinet, has vowed to conduct a "rigorous" investigation into the cause of the explosions, Xinhua said on Saturday.

The owners of the hazardous goods storage company at the centre of the incident, Rui Hai International Logistics, reportedly included the son of a former police chief who used his connections to help the firm obtain the necessary permits and pass inspections.

The blasts have also sparked fears of toxic pollutants contaminating the air and water of the city, which has a population of around 15 million people.

Thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals were stored at the site, officials have said, including about 700 tonnes of highly poisonous sodium cyanide, a white powder or crystal which can give off lethal hydrogen cyanide gas.