‘Tonnes’ of cyanide at China blasts site: mil­i­tary

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY KELLY OLSEN

Hun­dreds of tonnes of highly poi­sonous cyanide were be­ing stored at the ware­house dev­as­tated by two gi­ant ex­plo­sions in the Chi­nese port city of Tian­jin which killed 112, a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer said Sun­day.

The com­ments by Shi Luze, chief of the gen­eral staff of the Bei­jing mil­i­tary re­gion, were the first of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion of the pres­ence of the chem­i­cal at the haz­ardous goods stor­age fa­cil­ity at the cen­ter of the mas­sive blasts.

The dis­as­ter has raised fears of toxic con­tam­i­na­tion. Res­i­dents and vic­tims’ fam­i­lies hit out at author­i­ties for what they said was an in­for­ma­tion black­out, as com­mu­nist main­land China author­i­ties sus­pended or shut down dozens of web­sites for spread­ing “ru­mors.”

Nearly 100 peo­ple re­main miss­ing, in­clud­ing 85 fire­fight­ers, though of­fi­cials cau­tioned that some of them could be among the 88 corpses so far uniden­ti­fied.

More than 700 peo­ple have been hos­pi­tal­ized as a re­sult of Wed­nes­day’s blasts — which trig­gered a huge fire­ball and a blaze that emer­gency work­ers have strug­gled to put out since then, with fresh ex­plo­sions on Satur­day.

State pros­e­cu­tors said Sun­day they have started an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to see if dere­lic­tion of duty played a role in the dis­as­ter, the Xin­hua News Agency re­ported.

In a sign of the po­ten­tially hor­rific na­ture of some of the in­juries, the main state evening news bul­letin Sun­day showed a hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tient whose head, face and neck were com­pletely en­cased in thick white ban­dag­ing save for open­ings at the eyes nose and mouth.

Shi, who is a gen­eral, told a news con­fer­ence that cyanide had been iden­ti­fied at two lo­ca­tions in the blast zone. “The vol­ume was about sev­eral hun­dreds of tonnes ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mates,” he said.

A mil­i­tary team of 217 chem­i­cal and nu­clear ex­perts was de­ployed early on, and ear­lier main­land re­ports said 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were at the site.

Of­fi­cials have called in ex­perts from pro­duc­ers of the ma­te­rial — ex­po­sure to which can be “rapidly fa­tal,” ac­cord­ing to the U. S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol — to help han­dle it, and the neu­tral­iz­ing agent hy­dro­gen perox­ide has been used.

Author­i­ties have re­peat­edly sought to re­as­sure the public, in­sist­ing that de­spite the pres­ence of some pol­lu­tants at lev­els above nor­mal stan­dards, the air in Tian­jin re­mains breathe.

Main­land of­fi­cial Li Ke­qiang ar­rived in the city on Sun­day af­ter­noon to di­rect res­cue ef­forts, a com­mon move af­ter ma­jor dis­as­ters in the coun­try.

Pic­tures showed the Com­mu­nist Party No. 2 within a kilo­me­ter of the blast site, dressed in an or­di­nary white shirt and not wear­ing a mask.

Xin­hua re­ported late Satur­day that cyanide den­sity in waste wa­ter had been 10.9 times stan­dard on the day fol­low­ing the ex­plo­sions. It has since fallen but was still more than twice the nor­mal limit.

Test­ing Wa­ter

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En­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign group Green­peace said Sun­day it had tested sur­face wa­ter for cyanide at four lo­ca­tions in the city and had not de­tected high lev­els of the chem­i­cal.

“These re­sults show that lo­cal wa­ter sup­plies are not cur­rently se­verely con­tam­i­nated with cyanide,” it said, but re­it­er­ated its call for com­pre­hen­sive tests on the air and wa­ter and for pub­li­ca­tion of the re­sults.

On Satur­day a three- kilo­me­ter ( two- mile) ra­dius from the site of the blasts was evac­u­ated, staterun media re­ported. Of­fi­cials said later the re­ports were in­ac­cu­rate but ve­hi­cles were turned back at bar­ri­ers.

On Sun­day AFP saw young men, car­ry­ing per­sonal be­long­ings, leave FAW Toy­ota apart­ments and board a bus wait­ing to take them to al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion. Po­lice in masks could be seen at one check­point.

Steve Ra, an Amer­i­can who was evac­u­ated by his em­ployer to another area of Tian­jin, said he was wor­ried about the po­ten­tial health ef­fects.

“The main con­cern is just the air,” Ra told AFP. “I’m wait­ing to go back to get my nor­mal life back. But I don’t know what I’ll be breath­ing so that’s the big­gest con­cern.”

Tian­jin res­i­dents, rel­a­tives of the vic­tims and online com­men­ta­tors have slammed lo­cal author­i­ties for a lack of trans­parency, and tried to storm a news con­fer­ence on Satur­day.

‘ No truth!’

On Sun­day sob­bing men con­fronted se­cu­rity at the ho­tel where of­fi­cials have been brief­ing jour­nal­ists, with one shout­ing “Po­lice, I will kill some­one!” in what ap­peared to be a des­per­ate bid to at­tract at­ten­tion be­fore be­ing com­forted by a po­lice­man.

Another lashed out at re­porters at­tempt­ing to pho­to­graph him, say­ing: “Don’t take my photo, it is use­less. The news has no truth!”

Out­side, res­i­dents of a build­ing dam­aged by the blasts held a protest.

The gov­ern­ment has moved to limit crit­i­cism of the han­dling of the af­ter­math, with a to­tal of 50 web­sites shut down or sus­pended for “cre­at­ing panic by pub­lish­ing un­ver­i­fied in­for­ma­tion or let­ting users spread ground­less ru­mours,” ac­cord­ing to the Cy­berspace Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China.

Crit­i­cal posts on so­cial media have also been blocked, and more than 360 so­cial media ac­counts have been pun­ished.

One poster on mi­croblog­ging plat­form Sina Weibo wrote: “Why is it ‘ ru­mours’ are fly­ing ev­ery­where ev­ery time there is a dis­as­ter? Are they re­ally ru­mours?

“The gov­ern­ment is ly­ing ... You have lied to the peo­ple too much and made your­self un­trust­wor­thy.”

AP

In this im­age taken from a video footage from AP Video, a woman holds up a photo of her son, a miss­ing fire­fighter, out­side a ho­tel where of­fi­cials held a daily media con­fer­ences in Tian­jin on Sun­day, Aug. 16.

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