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Tianjin blast death toll reaches 50

14 August 2015

On August 13, officials in the Chinese city of Tianjin said the series of explosions in the port area killed at least 50 and injured 700, 71 seriously. Xinhua said 17 firefighters were confirmed dead and another 18 firefighters were missing, while 66 were being treated in nearby hospitals. The Tianjin Port Group Company said dozens of its employees remained unaccounted for.

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The blasts shattered windows in buildings and cars and knocked down walls in a 2-km radius around the site. More than 3,500 residents whose homes were damaged by the blasts spent the night in temporary shelters, but city authorities said the blasts had made up to 6,000 people homeless.

The epicentre was a warehouse at the port storing chemicals and hazardous materials owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics. Initial reports stated that there was an earlier fire at the site that was being attended by firefighters. Other local sources said the initial explosion was in a shipment of explosives, but this has not been confirmed.

Reuters reported that according to a 2014 government assessment, the Ruihai facility was designed to store chemicals including butanone, an explosive industrial solvent, sodium cyanide and compressed natural gas. The company also reportedly handles toluene diisocyanate, which is used in the production of flexible polyurethane foams. 

Sodium cyanide and toluene diisocyanate are said to be extremely toxic and even short-term exposure is harmful.

One other chemical known to have been stockpiled at the site, calcium carbide, can emit flammable gases when it becomes wet. Some outside experts have speculated that firefighters, in their effort to douse the flames, may have inadvertently contributed to the explosions.

Xinhua said a team of 217 military nuclear and biochemical specialists, along with a group from the International Atomic Energy Agency's Beijing office, had been dispatched to the area.

Gao Huaiyou, deputy director of Tianjin's work safety watchdog, told reporters that there were major discrepancies between the accounts of company managers and customs officials. He said damage to the company's office made it difficult to identify the chemicals involved.

Xinhua said that drains from Tianjin to Bohai Bay - a gulf in the Yellow Sea - had been closed "to stem chemical leak".

Earlier in August, local work safety officials had met with companies from various industries to discuss the handling of dangerous chemicals, according to a notice posted on a Tianjin government website.

The Chinese government said the country must learn a "profound" lesson from the Tianjin incident.

The State Council, China's cabinet, said in a statement posted to its website that it would launch a nationwide inspection of dangerous chemicals and explosives, and crack down on illegal activities to strengthen industry safety.

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