Blast-ripped industrial zone in Tianjin a hub for Chinese, foreign firms

Rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin on Aug 14.
Rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin on Aug 14.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Thousands of burned-out cars lie in neat rows alongside mountains of crushed shipping containers, the smouldering frontline to enormous explosions that paralysed one of China's most important ports and industrial zones.

The Binhai New Area in northern China, where the blasts killed scores of people and injured more than 500, is a giant logistics hub more than twice the size of Hong Kong.

It hosts auto plants, aircraft assembly lines, oil refineries and other service and production facilities, and describes itself as a "modern manufacturing and research base" on its website.

The area is home to the world's second fastest supercomputer, which was shut down as a precaution after Wednesday night's huge blasts.

It is also a major automobile trans-shipment point where about 10,000 imported cars were destroyed, according to the Qilu Evening News, 2,748 from German manufacturer Volkswagen and more than 1,000 built by France's Renault.

Tianjin is a major port for northern China, handling containers amounting to more than 14 million 20-foot equivalent units last year, according to the Binhai website.

Operations at the port were "basically paralysed" by the blast, the official China Securities Journal reported.

Resources giant BHP Billiton - for which China is a crucial market - said in a statement that its iron ore discharge berths were undamaged, with the closest 20km from the blast site.

But it said that "shipments and port operations have been disrupted" by the blast and it was working with its customers "to minimise any potential impact".

Europe's Airbus also said it was assessing the effect on port operations.

It has an assembly line for its popular A320 aircraft in the area and said Thursday that the blast was far from the facility and caused no immediate damage.

"The Airbus Tianjin site is far beyond the area of explosion. There is no impact on the employees and the facilities," it told AFP in an emailed statement. "Operations at Airbus Tianjin run normally today."

But it added: "The potential impact on logistics via Tianjin Port... is currently under investigation."

Japanese auto giant Toyota has a joint venture car plant in Binhai, but an executive with the operation told AFP the factory was on summer vacation and was not affected in the explosion.

Neither Volkswagen nor Renault officials were immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP Thursday.

The Binhai New Area covers 2,270 sq km and has a coastline of 153km, the website says.

It is focussed on eight main industries including aerospace and aviation, electronics and information, equipment manufacturing, petrochemical and new energy and material.

Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-1A was also shut down, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing officials at the National Supercomputing Centre in Binhai.

The machine itself was intact after the explosion and running normally, Xinhua said, but the building housing it was damaged and it was switched off due to security concerns.