Main­land China bat­tling fires and con­tam­i­na­tion at chem­i­cal blast site

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN­JAMIN HAAS

Main­land Chi­nese author­i­ties strug­gled Fri­day to ex­tin­guish fires and iden­tify dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals at a dev­as­tated in­dus­trial site, two days af­ter gi­ant ex­plo­sions killed dozens and left res­i­dents in fear of be­ing cloaked in a toxic cloud.

Of­fi­cials in the north­ern port city of Tian­jin, where the blasts killed at least 56 peo­ple and in­jured more than 700, told a news con­fer­ence they did not yet know what ma­te­ri­als were at the haz­ardous goods stor­age fa­cil­ity that ex­ploded, or the cause of the blast.

But main­land Chi­nese media and en­vi­ron­ment group Green­peace warned a host of po­ten­tially ex­tremely dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals may have been stored there.

At least 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were at the site, along with other dan­ger­ous sub­stances, and the poi­sonous chem­i­cal had been de­tected in nearby drains, the Bei­jing News ini­tially re­ported.

But the re­port was no longer avail­able on the news­pa­per’s web­site on Fri­day, giv­ing rise to sus­pi­cions that the main­land Chi­nese gov­ern­ment was clamp­ing down on sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the tragedy.

The of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency said a team of 217 nu­clear and bio­chem­i­cal ma­te­ri­als spe­cial­ists from the main­land Chi­nese mil­i­tary had trav­eled to Tian­jin to in­spect the site.

Xin­hua cited lo­cal author­i­ties for the latest rise in the death toll to 56, which it said in­cluded 21 fire­men.

The agency added that 721 peo­ple had been hos­pi­tal­ized, 25 of whom were in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Dozens of peo­ple were still miss­ing but there was a rare mo­ment to cheer on Fri­day morn­ing when res­cue work­ers pulled a 19-year-old fire­fighter

from the rub­ble.

Fear of the Un­known

How­ever up to 1,000 fire­fight­ers were still strug­gling to ex­tin­guish blazes at the site, with smoke bil­low­ing from three ar­eas, adding to un­cer­tainty over whether more chem­i­cals may be leak­ing.

Some po­lice wore no pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, while oth­ers had full-face gas masks, although an en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­pert told an of­fi­cial press con­fer­ence that toxic gas in­di­ca­tors were within nor­mal ranges and the air “should be safe for res­i­dents to breathe.”

At a nearby of­fice build­ing, se­cu­rity guard Liu Zong­guang, 50, wore a cheap sur­gi­cal mask.

“I’m wear­ing this mask be­cause I saw some po­lice wear­ing them, but I also saw some with­out masks, I don’t re­ally know what to do,” Liu said.

“I’m re­ally scared, but I don’t even know what to be scared of, the gov­ern­ment hasn’t said any­thing, noth­ing about what we should do to keep our fam­i­lies safe from the chem­i­cals.”

Green­peace warned on Thurs­day that rain could trans­fer air­borne chem­i­cals into wa­ter sys­tems.

The cam­paign group said it was “crit­i­cal” that author­i­ties mon­i­tored the sit­u­a­tion closely and iden­ti­fied what sub­stances were be­ing re­leased into the air.

Tian­jin work safety of­fi­cial Gao Huaiyou told re­porters that author­i­ties did not know which of the many dan­ger­ous sub­stances the com­pany was au­tho­rized to store were on the site at the time.

As a trans-ship­ment fa­cil­ity, items were nor­mally only kept for brief pe­ri­ods and “the types and amount of the dan­ger­ous ma­te­ri­als are not fixed,” he said.

The com­pany’s own records were dam­aged in the blast, he added, and in­for­ma­tion from its ex­ec­u­tives was un­re­li­able as it did not match its cus­toms fil­ings.

The deputy di­rec­tor of the Bin­hai New Area gov­ern­ment, where the blast hap­pened said that 17,000 fam­i­lies, 1,700 in­dus­trial en­ter­prises and 675 busi­ness had been af­fected, but did not pro­vide de­tails.

AFP

Vol­un­teers and paramil­i­tary sol­diers wear­ing masks stand on pa­trol out­side a tem­po­rary shel­ter af­ter the ex­plo­sions in Tian­jin, Fri­day, Aug. 14.

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