Firefighter, 19, pulled alive from blast wreckage in Tianjin; cause of blasts still unknown

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The cause of two massive explosions in China's port city Tianjin are still unknown, investigators say.
This photo taken on Aug 14, 2015 with a smartphone shows medical personnel taking care of firefighter Zhou Ti, a survivor from the explosions at a chemical warehouse that hit the city of Tianjin, as he lies on his hospital bed. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on Aug 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. PHOTO: AFP
This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows an aerial image of smoke rising from debris the day after a series of explosions hit a chemical warehouse in the city of Tianjin, in northern China. PHOTO: AFP
Firefighters carrying the body of a victim from the site of the explosions in Tianjin, China, on Aug 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS
An employee of the company based at the site of huge explosion at the port in Tianjin, China, showing a picture of her missing colleague to officials at the hospital on Aug 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS
Chinese firefighters working in Tianjin on Aug 14, the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city. PHOTO: AFP
Shipping containers sit piled up next to a badly damaged building on the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, China on Aug 14, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TIANJIN - A firefighter was pulled alive from the burnt-out wreckage of a warehouse in an industrial area in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin on Friday, two days after twin explosions ripped through the area, unleashing a fireball that caused massive destruction spanning kilometres.

And amid mounting concerns over safety, Mr Gao Huaiyou, deputy director of Tianjin's work safety watchdog, told reporters on Friday that the blast site had been sealed to contain the toxic chemicals.

The authorities were, however, still unable to determine the dangerous chemicals at the storage facility where the explosions happened, or the cause of the blasts.

Mr Gao said this was due to discrepancies between the accounts of company management and the customs department, and because records in the company's office had been destroyed during the blasts.

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The fiery blasts on Wednesday night killed at least 56 people, including 21 firefighters. Some 700 were injured, more than 70 seriously.

Some 1,000 firefighters were deployed to the site, including 19-year-old firefighter Zhou Ti, who was rescued from the wreckage on Friday.

He sustained chest injuries but was in a stable condition, the city government said on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

Officials said Mr Zhou had no recollection of when he reached the scene, and it was not clear whether he was among the first responders to the site who were caught up in the giant blasts.

Residents living near the blast site are worried about their safety after the media reported that there could be hundreds of tonnes of dangerous chemicals at the site. A weather forecast of rain on Friday that could further contaminate water supplies has also raised alarm.

But Mr Gao said that any light rain was unlikely to cause much harm. Officials also maintained that their tests of harmful substances in the air showed that the level was still within safe limits.

Police in Tianjin said earlier that the warehouse was owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, a private firm licensed to handle hazardous cargo.

According to the official People's Daily, the firm's top official had been detained for questioning.

The newspaper also reported that the storage facility's construction clearly violated safety rules.

Under Chinese regulations, warehouses stocking dangerous materials must be at least 1km away from surrounding public buildings and main roads, it said, but there were facilities such as two residential compounds, two hospitals and several main roads within that distance.

"The warehouse should not have passed the environment assessment under normal circumstances," the paper quoted an unnamed environmental expert as saying.

Reuters, citing the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration, reported that the firm violated packaging standards during a safety inspection two years ago.

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