Huge ware­house blasts hit Tian­jin

At least 50 peo­ple are con­firmed dead fol­low­ing fiery ex­plo­sions

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRISTO­PHER BODEEN

Huge, fiery blasts at a ware­house for haz­ardous chem­i­cals killed at least 50 peo­ple and turned nearby build­ings into skele­tal shells in the main­land Chi­nese port of Tian­jin, rais­ing ques­tions Thurs­day about whether the ma­te­ri­als had been prop­erly stored.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple were in­jured in the ex­plo­sions shortly be­fore mid­night Wed­nes­day, which sent out mas­sive fire­balls that turned the night sky into day and shat­tered win­dows sev­eral kilo­me­ters away. Twelve of the dead were from among the more than 1,000 fire­fight­ers sent to the mostly in­dus­trial zone to fight the en­su­ing blaze.

“I thought it was an earth­quake, so I rushed down­stairs with­out my shoes on,” said Tian­jin res­i­dent Zhang Siyu, whose home is sev­eral kilo­me­ters (miles) from the blast site. “Only once I was out­side did I re­al­ize it was an ex­plo­sion. There was the huge fire­ball in the sky with thick clouds. Ev­ery­body could see it.”

Zhang said she could see wounded peo­ple weep­ing. She said she did not see any­one who had been killed, but “I could feel death.”

The mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment in Tian­jin, a key port and petro­chem­i­cal pro­cess­ing hub about 120 kilo­me­ters east of Bei­jing, said 701 peo­ple were in­jured, in­clud­ing 71 in se­ri­ous con­di­tion. It gave no fig­ure for the miss­ing.

There was no in­di­ca­tion of what caused the blasts, and no im­me­di­ate sign of any toxic cloud in the air as fire­fight­ers brought the fire largely un­der con­trol by morn­ing. How­ever, the Tian­jin gov­ern­ment sus­pended fur­ther fire­fight­ing to al­low a team of chem­i­cal ex­perts to sur­vey haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als at the site, as­sess dan­gers to the en­vi­ron­ment and de­cide how best to pro­ceed.

Main­land Chi­nese state media said se­nior man­age­ment of the com­pany had been de­tained, and that leader Xi Jin­ping de­manded se­vere pun­ish­ment for any­one found re­spon­si­ble for the ex­plo­sions.

‘What a nu­clear bomb

would be like’

“It was like what we were told a nu­clear bomb would be like,” said truck driver Zhao Zhencheng, who spent the night in the cab of his truck af­ter the blasts. “I’ve never even thought I’d see such a thing. It was ter­ri­fy­ing, but also beau­ti­ful.”

In a sign of sen­si­tiv­ity over the haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als stored at the ware­house, state broad­caster CCTV went into a live broad­cast of a news con­fer­ence in Tian­jin when the head of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Bureau chief, Wen Wu­rui, was speak­ing. He said there had been no ap­par­ent im­pact on air mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions, but that wa­ter sam­ples were still be­ing ex­am­ined.

How­ever, when a re­porter asked him whether the chem­i­cals at the ware­house had been stored far enough away from res­i­dences in the area and Wen seemed at a loss for a re­sponse, the broad­caster sud­denly cut away from the news con­fer­ence, only to re­turn to it again later.

Author­i­ties said the blasts started at ship­ping con­tain­ers at the ware­house owned by Rui­hai Lo­gis­tics, a com­pany that says it stores haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing flammable petro­chem­i­cals, sodium cyanide and toluene di­iso­cyanate.

The ini­tial blast ap­par­ently trig­gered an even big­ger one. Main­land China’s Na­tional Earth­quake Bureau said the first blast was the equiv­a­lent of 3 tons of TNT, and the sec­ond 21 tons. The enor­mous fire­balls from the blasts rolled through a nearby park­ing lot, turn­ing a fleet of 1,000 new cars into scorched me­tal husks.

As is cus­tom­ary dur­ing dis­as­ters, main­land Chi­nese author­i­ties tried to keep a tight con­trol over in­for­ma­tion. Po­lice kept jour­nal­ists and by­standers away with a cordon about 1 or 2 kilo­me­ters (about a mile) from the site. On China’s pop­u­lar mi­croblog­ging plat­form of Weibo, some users com­plained that their posts about the blasts were deleted, and the num­ber of search­able posts on the dis­as­ter fluc­tu­ated, in a sign that author­i­ties were ma­nip­u­lat­ing or plac­ing lim­its on the num­ber of posts.

The web­site of the lo­gis­tics com­pany be­came in­ac­ces­si­ble Thurs­day.

The Tian­jin gov­ern­ment said that be­cause of the blasts it had sus­pended online ac­cess to public cor­po­rate records. These records might be used to trace the own­er­ship of Rui­hai. It was not clear whether the black­out was due to tech­ni­cal dam­age re­lated to the ex­plo­sion. No one an­swered the phone at the Tian­jin Mar­ket and Qual­ity Su­per­vi­sion Ad­min­is­tra­tion or the Tian­jin Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce on Thurs­day.

Rui­hai Lo­gis­tics said on its web­site — be­fore it was shut down — that it was es­tab­lished in 2011 and is an ap­proved com­pany for han­dling haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als. It said it han­dles 1 mil­lion tons of cargo an­nu­ally.

AP

1. Smoke bil­lows out from the site of an ex­plo­sion that re­duced a park­ing lot filled with new cars to charred re­mains at a ware­house in north­east­ern China’s Tian­jin mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Thurs­day, Aug. 13. 2. A man with his wounds ban­daged eats a bun in a hos­pi­tal re­ceiv­ing vic­tims of an ex­plo­sion in Tian­jin mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Thurs­day.

3. An in­jured fire­fighter gri­maces as he is ex­am­ined in a hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing ex­plo­sions in Tian­jin mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Thurs­day.

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