Updates from the massive blast at an industrial area of Tianjin which occurred last Wednesday evening have continued to roll in.
The problem has moved on from the fire itself–which has been extinguished–to concerns over toxic chemicals around the site, as well as accurate information on the severity of the disaster.
The official death toll stands at 114 as of Monday afternoon, but with around 70 firefighters still believed missing, this figure seems likely to rise further still. With a lot of information still lacking and rumors running wild, Prime Minister Li Keqiang has visited the site and said that without “authoritative publicity” rumors are likely to swirl.
This was likely a reference to botched press conferences in which unwelcome questions resulted in officials simply getting up and leaving in the face of withering questions, such as why a residential community had been built this close to an industrial area.
Distraught relatives of missing and dead firefighters have also been vocal at the press conferences.
Numerous rumors have been swirling on WeChat, accompanied by pictures of destroyed cars and in one case even a shack for migrant workers, along with claims that the death toll is much higher than is being revealed.
One popular post, by a former US army chemical weapons specialist turned environmental products entrepreneur, has been doing the rounds with information on the nature of the chemicals in question. Another popular post warned residents in the capital to be careful during rain, and purported to be from the US embassy. The US embassy does not appear to have issued any such message, and all official sources have indicated that the capital is much too far away to be affected.
Meanwhile, billionaire provocateur Chen Guangbiao has visited the site to help out in the recovery process, but quickly found himself hospitalized by what appears to be a moderate case of chemical poisoning (link in Chinese).
Tianjin, a city just south of the capital, has been hit by what is almost certainly one of the world’s largest-ever peacetime explosions.
As of Thursday afternoon the death toll was at 44 after two explosions at the Binhai industrial district at around 11 to 11.30 PM Wednesday night.
The first detonation was smaller, initial reports suggesting a container of explosives. This is believed to have set off some kind of gas or chemical explosion. Unfortunately firefighters rushed to the scene after the first explosion only to become victims of the second, which has been described as having “the force of 21 tons of TNT”.
The force was so great that it blew out windows within a kilometer radius of the area, causing further injuries and smoke blanketed the skies. Over 300 people had been recorded injured as of noon Thursday.
At least seven fire trucks were destroyed in the blaze, and 12 firefighters are among the dead.
Reporters have been having a difficult time reporting on the area. Aside from the dust cloud and initial (later dispelled) fears of chemicals in the air, foreign reporters have come under pressure. CNN reporters were accosted outside a hospital by distraught relatives seemingly angry at being caught on camera.
Social media has been lit up with tragic scenes amid the devastation, but not everything has been grim – around 400 people lined up to donate blood at nearby hospitals in the wake of the tragedy.
The company at the epicenter of the blast has been identified as the Tianjin Dongjing Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co. Ltd, and they are believed to transport dangerous substances.
Evacuations from the area are continuing and further explanations from the authorities are anticipated.
UPDATES (as of 10:00 PM Thursday).
The death toll has climbed to 50 with 700 being treated in hospitals for injuries, some severe. Some firefighters in the area are missing and out of contact.
Armed police have been dispatched to the scene, which has over 1,000 firefighters. Xinhua has also reported that chemical specialists are in the area. The evacuation zone has been widened amid concerns that the area is home to dangerous chemicals. With rain expected on Friday, the authorities are still assessing the best approach, as they are faced with the dilemma of moving in closer to a potentially dangerous area to put out the fires – which are still persisting – and cleaning up, or waiting in case of further explosions.
Cyanide chemicals are believed to be leaking onto the ground – the good news being that it isn’t airborne. The authorities are using Hydrogen Peroxide to combat it.
Drone footage from above has captured the devastation. And this footage taken by foreigners who saw the explosion captures it in detail (warning, coarse language – quite a lot of it).
Candlelight vigils are being held in small groups across Tianjin and most likely other parts of China.
Brush up on vocab for disasters such as this here.