MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS CAUSED HUGE DAMAGE TO TIANJIN
August 20, 2015
Officials said the massive explosions in Chinese city Tianjin had killed 114 people by August 18 and caused huge damage to the businesses in the port district. While the cause of the explosions is still under investigations, the incident reflects serious loopholes in China’s hazmat regulation.
The explosions occurred at a hazmat warehouse in the port district of Tianjin, a major Chinese city located about 70 miles south of Beijing. The warehouse was used for storing highly flammable and toxic chemicals including sodium cyanide. At around 10 PM on August 12, local residents called the fire department after observing flames rising from the warehouse. Without knowing the potential hazards in this site, firefighters followed regular procedure and tried to put out the fire with water and foam, which triggered a series of catastrophic blasts in a few minutes.
The first two explosions were so powerful that they even triggered a magnitude-2.9 earthquake, or the equivalent of 21 metric tons of TNT, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center. A video posted on Chinese social media Weibo shows an apocalyptic scene where the second explosion created a mushroom cloud in the sky, followed by fireballs dropping rapidly to the ground. A resident who lived two miles from the explosion site said it felt like an earthquake when the second explosion happened. “The whole building was shaking,” he said, “I live on the fifth floor and all the windows are broken.”
By August 20, the explosions have claimed 114 lives and injured 722, with 65 still missing. At least 60 first responders, including 53 firefighters and 7 police officers, were killed by the blasts, according to Chinese web media Sohu. The blasts have caused tremendous damage to the industrial parks and residential apartments in the surrounding area. According to Xinhua, real estate companies may lose as much as 1 billion RMB for their damaged properties. Automakers are seeking compensation which could exceed 1.5 billion US dollars for over 4,950 imported cars damaged by the blasts.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the explosion site in Tianjin on August 16. He also talked with injured people being treated at a nearby hospital. In the meeting with local officials, Premier Li expressed condolences to the families of the victims and paid respect to fallen firefighters. “They are all heroes and deserve the respect of the whole society,” said Li, “the Party and the government thank you.”
Questions have been raised after the government disclosed the profile of the warehouse’s owner, Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics. Many people suspected whether Ruihai had followed legal process to receive its hazmat permit, given that the company quickly expanded its business from container storage into hazardous material logistics within two years. Chinese business magazine Caijing said one Ruihai executive had close ties with the port district’s chief of police. On August 18, authorities had launched investigations into several executives of Ruihai as well as Yang Dongliang, the chief of State Administration of Work Safety.
The blasts outraged local residents who had been uninformed of the danger next door. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a hotel where a press conference was held, asking the government to compensate them for property losses, such as buying back their homes. They were joined by angry family members of the missing firefighters, who claimed the government had not done enough to protect their relatives. However, none of these demands has been answered from the authorities.
By August 18, toxic chemicals had not been fully removed from the explosion site and the surrounding area. Biochemical experts had discovered over 40 different types of chemicals at the blast site, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide. To avoid more casualties, authorities had ordered a total evacuation of all residents within three kilometers of the explosion site. Still, some residents fear that the bodies of water in the surrounding region have been severely contaminated by toxic chemicals.
Some U.S. companies, including John Deere, have been affected by the explosions. John Deere said the blasts had damaged its facilities and seriously injured some employees who lived close to the explosion site. On August 12, the White House sent its condolences to the victims of the Tianjin explosions. Calling the explosion a tragedy, White House spokesman Ned Price said “our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and with China’s first responders who are working to help those who were injured.”
For more information on this topic, please visit the following links:
The Guardian – “US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue: Putting on a Brave Face“;
New York Times – “In Tianjin Blasts, a Heavy Toll for Unsuspecting Firefighters”
For Chinese language news on this topic, see the sources below:
新浪 – “天津港特别重大火灾爆炸事故”
网易 – “天津爆炸事故头七:美国消防队为牺牲同行降半旗”
凤凰网 – “航拍天津爆炸中心现大量浑浊积水“
Compiled and edited by Junxiao Liang.