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Dozens dead in explosions at Tianjin hazardous chemicals warehouse

Published 13/08/2015

The death toll from the fiery explosions at a warehouse of hazardous chemicals in the the Chinese port of Tianjin has climbed to 50.

Meanwhile the Chinese government sent experts to the shattered and smouldering port to assess any environmental dangers from the spectacular blasts.

More than 700 people were injured and dozens were reported missing in the explosions shortly before midnight on Wednesday that demolished a workers' dormitory, tossed shipping containers as if they were toy blocks and turned a fleet of 1,000 new cars into scorched metal husks. Windows were shattered for miles around by the shockwaves.

There was no indication of what caused the disaster in one of China's busiest ports, and authorities tried to keep a tight rein over information by keeping reporters well away from the site. Social media users complained their posts about it were deleted.

More than 1,000 firefighters were sent to the mostly industrial zone in Tianjin, a petrochemical processing hub about 75 miles east of Beijing.

Tianjin is the 10th largest port in the world by container volume, according to the World Shipping Council, and the seventh-biggest in China. It handles vast amounts of metal ore, coal, steel, cars and crude oil.

Ships carrying oil and "hazardous products" were barred from the port on Thursday, the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration said. It added vessels were not allowed to enter the central port zone, which is near the blast site.

The municipal government, which gave the death toll of at least 50, said 701 people were injured, including 71 in serious condition. The Tianjin Port Group said dozens of its employees were unaccounted for and a search is under way. Some migrant workers at the port may not be documented.

Authorities said the blasts started at the warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics, a company that says it stores hazardous materials including flammable petrochemicals, sodium cyanide and toluene diisocyanate.

An initial explosion apparently triggered an even bigger one. The National Earthquake Bureau said the first blast was the equivalent of three tons of TNT, and the second 21 tons. The enormous fireballs from the blasts rolled through a nearby parking lot, turning a fleet of 1,000 new cars into scorched metal husks.

Chinese state TV reported that a shipment of explosives had exploded in Tianjin
Chinese state TV reported that a shipment of explosives had exploded in Tianjin
Photo taken with a mobile phone on August 12, 2015 shows people taking shelter on a street after a huge explosion in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. AFP/Getty Images
Photo taken with a mobile phone on August 12, 2015 shows people taking shelter on a street after a huge explosion in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. AFP/Getty Images
Police help a man to safety near the explosion site (AP)
A screen grab from taken from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) footage on August 12, 2015 shows a huge explosion in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin.
TOPSHOTS A damaged car is seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS A damaged fire truck is seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS An injured man walks out from a residential area near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Fire and smoke rise from the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Picture - Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph Belfast - Northern Ireland - Thursday 13th August 2015 - Hilden Incident Pictured is police officers at the scene of an industrial incident at the Hilden Brewery in Lisburn Picture - Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph
Rescuers are seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Fire and smoke is seen from a broken window of an apartment near the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Fire and smoke rises at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Brand new cars parked in Tianjin port are seen badly damaged at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
A melted tyre of a car is seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
A damaged fire truck is seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
A damaged police car is seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Staff of a maternity hospital wait to provide help to injured people being housed at a school near the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
Two women sleep on the road outside a damaged residential building near the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. E normous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
An injured man walks beside the emergency unit of Teda Hospital near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOURFRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
An injured woman arrives at the emergency unit of Teda Hospital near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOURFRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
An injured man arrives at the emergency unit of Teda Hospital near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOURFRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
An injured man arrives at the emergency unit of Teda Hospital near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOURFRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
Damaged cars and containers are seen at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. A series of enormous explosions at an industrial area in the Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 44 people and injured hundreds, state media reported August 13, unleashing a fireball that ripped through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises behind damaged shipping containers at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. A series of enormous explosions at an industrial area in the Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 17 people and injured hundreds, state media reported August 13, unleashing a fireball that ripped through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises behind damaged shipping containers at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. A series of enormous explosions at an industrial area in the Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 17 people and injured hundreds, state media reported August 13, unleashing a fireball that ripped through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Smoke billows behind rows of burnt out cars at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
Shattered windows are seen on the façade of a residential building near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
An injured worker (L) walks out with colleagues from the area near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters walk past rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
A man looks at a row of damaged cars outside a residential building near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKERGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
The burnt wreckage of a car is seen as flames rise in the background at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
An official wearing a mask stands by a police car at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Fire fighters in protective gear watch as smoke continues to billow out after an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge explosions in the warehouse district sent up massive fireballs that turned the night sky into day in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, officials and witnesses said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Smoke billows from the site of an explosion that reduced a parking lot filled with new cars to charred remains at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge, fiery blasts at a warehouse for hazardous chemicals killed many people and turned nearby buildings into skeletal shells in the Chinese port of Tianjin, raising questions Thursday about whether the materials had been properly stored. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Photographers walk near the deformed remains of containers after an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge, fiery blasts at a warehouse for hazardous chemicals killing many people and turned nearby buildings into skeletal shells in the Chinese port of Tianjin, raising questions Thursday about whether the materials had been properly stored. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Fire fighters in protective gear watch partially pink smoke continue to billow after an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge, fiery blasts at a warehouse for hazardous chemicals killed many people and turned nearby buildings into skeletal shells in the Chinese port of Tianjin, raising questions Thursday about whether the materials had been properly stored. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
An injured person is brought into a hospital following explosions in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday. (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Smoke continues at the accident site after explosions from a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 50 people died and more than 700 were injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Fire and smoke continues to rise at the site of a massive explosion at a warehouse in the Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 50 people died and more than 700 were injured in the explosion on Wednesday, August 12. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

Zhang Siyu, who lives several miles from the blast site, said she ran from her home without her shoes because she initially thought it was an earthquake. "Only once I was outside did I realize it was an explosion. There was the huge fireball in the sky with thick clouds. Everybody could see it," she said.

Ms Zhang said she could see wounded people weeping. She said she did not see anyone who had been killed, but "I could feel death".

State media said senior management of the company had been detained, and that President Xi Jinping demanded severe punishment for anyone found responsible for the explosions.

There was no immediate sign of any toxic cloud in the air as firefighters brought the fire largely under control by morning. But the Tianjin government suspended further firefighting to allow the team of experts to survey hazardous materials at the site, assess dangers to the environment and decide how best to proceed.

In a sign of sensitivity over the hazardous materials stored at the warehouse, state broadcaster CCTV went live to a news conference in Tianjin when the head of the municipality's Environmental Protection Bureau chief, Wen Wurui, was speaking. He said there had been no apparent impact on air monitoring stations, but that water samples were still being examined.

When a reporter asked him whether the chemicals at the warehouse had been stored far enough away from residences and Mr Wen seemed at a loss for a response, the broadcaster suddenly cut away, only to return to it later.

Police kept journalists and bystanders away with a cordon about a mile from the site. On China's popular Weibo microblogging platform, some users said their posts about the blasts were deleted, and the number of searchable posts on the disaster fluctuated, in a sign that authorities were manipulating or placing limits on the number of posts.

The Tianjin Internet Police warned social media users to stick to official reports about the number of dead and injured, saying that there would be "zero tolerance for creating rumours".

The website of the logistics company became inaccessible.

The Tianjin government said that because of the blasts it had suspended online access to public corporate records. It was not clear whether the blackout was due to technical damage related to the explosion.

Ruihai Logistics said on its website, before it was shut down, that it was established in 2011 and is an approved company for handling hazardous materials. It said it handles one million tons of cargo annually.

Photos taken by bystanders and circulating on microblogs showed a gigantic fireball high in the sky with a mushroom cloud. Other photos on state media outlets showed a sea of fire that painted the sky bright orange, with tall plumes of smoke.

Tianjin, with a population of about 15 million, is being promoted by the Chinese government as a center for finance and high-tech industry. The Tianjin Economic Development Area has attracted foreign investors including Motorola, Toyota, Samsung and Novozymes.

The port has grown in importance as companies wanting lower manufacturing costs have migrated to the north from eastern and southern China's manufacturing centres.

In the US, the White House sent its condolences, with spokesman Ned Price calling the explosions a tragedy and praising the first responders working to help the injured.

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