Angry relatives demand answers

A woman (center) holds a name list of missing firefighters as family members talk to the media to seek help after being barred from a press conference in Tianjin on Aug 15, 2015.
A woman (center) holds a name list of missing firefighters as family members talk to the media to seek help after being barred from a press conference in Tianjin on Aug 15, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TIANJIN • Furious, frustrated and fearful, relatives of those missing after the massive blasts in Tianjin besieged officials yesterday, demanding answers on the fates of their loved ones, only to have security personnel intervene instead.

Three days after huge explosions lit up the night sky and left scenes of utter devastation across an industrial zone in the northern Chinese city, a father said he had yet to hear from his firefighter son.

"We tried to call him as soon as we saw the explosions on television, but it has been impossible to reach him," said the man in his 50s, surnamed Liu, his voice trembling with emotion.

He was certain his 22-year-old son, a new recruit to the Tianjin fire department, was among the more than 1,000 firefighters deployed to the scene of the disaster.

At least 104 people, 21 of them firefighters, were killed by the blasts at a hazardous goods storage facility.

Mr Liu was among a dozen relatives barred from a press conference the authorities gave at a hotel yesterday. As unperturbed local officials spoke, their cries and shouts penetrated the doors that had been locked to keep them out.

"Nobody has told us anything, we're in the dark," a middle-aged woman screamed tearfully as she was being dragged away by security personnel.

Mr Yang Jie does not know if his 24-year-old firefighter son is alive.

But he is clinging on to a sliver of hope. "The media has been reporting that hospitals have not been able to find the family of one of the injured, who seems to look like my son," he said.

"I will go and check."

Many have lamented on social media the heavy price paid by the firefighters, most of them young and with limited experience.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Angry relatives demand answers'. Print Edition | Subscribe