Was badly stored cyanide to blame for the catastrophic Chinese warehouse blasts that killed 50? Panicked families flee ‘toxic cloud’ after secretive officials refuse to list deadly chemicals kept on site
- At least 50 people killed including 12 firefighters and more than 700 injured after massive blasts in Tianjin, China
- Explosion erupted in warehouse thought to contain sodium cyanide, a deadly chemical that can kill rapidly if inhaled
- Officials fuel panic by refusing to say what was being stored or offering any explanation for cause of the disaster
- Dramatic videos of the explosion show flames erupting into the night sky as residents told how windows shattered
Hundreds of families have fled their homes amid fears a cocktail of deadly chemicals had been spewed into the atmosphere after two huge explosions rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin.
At least 50 people have died and 700 injured after the blasts erupted at a warehouse for hazardous materials, leaving an apocalyptic landscape of incinerated cars, crumpled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings.
It is believed the warehouse contained at least 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical that can kill rapidly if inhaled, as well as other highly flammable and dangerous materials.
As chemical experts were sent to assess the scene, officials fuelled panic by refusing to say what was being stored or offering any explanation for the cause of the disaster.
The incident has raised questions – also as yet unanswered – about whether the materials had been properly stored.
Wasteland: A view of the devastated landscape of the Chinese port city of Tianjin, where huge, fiery blasts at a warehouse for hazardous materials killed at least 50 people, raising questions about what potentially lethal chemicals may have been released into the air
Aftermath: In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, smoke rises from the site of explosions from a nearby building in the Binhai New Area in northeastern China’s Tianjin municipality. The explosions claimed the lives of at least 44 people and injured 500 more
Officials could give no reason for the disaster at a facility for dangerous chemicals, but reportedly detained the firm’s senior management
Firefighters in protective gear watch as smoke continues to billow out more than 12 hours after an explosion at a warehouse in Tianjin
Hot zone: The Tianjin government suspended further firefighting to allow a team of chemical experts to survey hazardous materials at the site
Authorities said the blasts started at shipping containers at the warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics, a company that says it stores hazardous materials including flammable petrochemicals, sodium cyanide and toluene diisocyanate
Evacuation: People wearing masks leave their homes for temporary shelters near the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin
A chemical called toluene diisocyanate which can penetrate the skin and cause poisoning was also being stored at the plant, according to a Chinese doctor who warned people to wear gas masks and cover their bodies.
A lack of answers about vast explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin Thursday reinforced questions about standards in the country, where campaigners say lives are sacrificed on a lack of respect for safety and poor implementation.
The blasts detonated with such force they registered on the Richter scale and were visible from space, sending terrified residents running from their homes fearing there had been earthquake.
Twelve of the dead were from teams of more than 1,000 firefighters sent to fight the ensuing blaze which broke out in the city of Tianjin, around 90 miles from Beijing, at around 11.30pm local time last night.
Black: Fire and smoke continues to rise at the site of a massive explosion at a warehouse in the Binhai New Area in Tianjin today
Protection: A man covers his mouth with a towel near to the site of a massive explosion at a warehouse in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin
Still going: Fire and smoke at the site of the explosion that saw at least 50 people killed and more than 700 were injured
Response: Firefighters work at the explosion site in Tianjin as the death toll and injury count from the incident continued to rise
Blaze: At least 44 people have been killed and up to 500 more injured after several explosions tore through a warehouse in Tianjin
Apocalyptic: The fireball swept through a parking lot of up to 1,000 new Renault cars, blowing out windows and ripping off paint
The municipal government in Tianjin, a key port and petrochemical processing hub about 75 miles east of Beijing, said 701 people were injured, including 71 in serious condition.
There was no indication of what caused the blasts as firefighters brought the fire largely under control by morning.
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.
Officials could give no reason for the disaster at a storage facility for dangerous chemicals, saying only that ‘before the explosion, locals saw the fire and reported it’.
The panel were peppered with questions about what chemicals were in the tanks that exploded, but refused to provide details and the briefing ended abruptly with officials rushing off stage.
The enormous fireballs from the blasts rolled through a nearby parking lot, turning a fleet of 1,000 new cars into scorched metal husks
Obliterated: An aerial view of the explosion site in Binhai New Area of Tianjin. The detonations were so powerful they could be seen from space
Carnage: Excavators clear wreckage near the site of the explosions that crumpled shipping containers at the Binhai new district in Tianjin
Twelve of the dead were from among the more than 1,000 firefighters sent to the mostly industrial zone to fight the ensuing blaze
Paramilitary police stand in formation before carrying out rescue and recovery operations inside the blast zone at the Binhai new district
Rescuers are seen at the site of the massive explosions in Tianjin which have killed at least 50 people and injured more than 700
Fragments of glass windows are seen sticking in the wall of a stairway in a building after the windows were blown in by the blasts
A man looks out from inside a damaged residential building near the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin
In a further sign of sensitivity over the hazardous materials stored at the warehouse, state broadcaster CCTV went into a live broadcast of 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.
But when a reporter asked him whether the chemicals at the warehouse had been stored far enough away from residences in the area and Mr Wen seemed at a loss for a response, the broadcaster suddenly cut away from the news conference, only to return to it again later.
‘Clearly there is no real culture of safety in the workplace in China,’ said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which promotes worker rights.
Blast: The huge explosion hit an industrial area of China last night in the north-eastern city of Tianjin, killing at least 44 and injuring 500
Ablaze: Several vehicles are seen burning following blasts in Tianjin municipality late yesterday evening, which killed at least 44 people.
Only a year ago, a massive explosion at a car parts factory in Kunshan, near Shanghai, left 146 workers dead, he pointed out.
The blasts, originating at the Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics Co for hazardous material, turned buildings in the immediate vicinity into charred, skeletal shells and left hundreds of cars reduced to husks.
The fireball swept through a parking lot of up to 1,000 new Renault cars, blowing out windows and ripping off paint.
Spectacular cellphone video of the explosions demonstrated the sheer power of the blasts, with many of those recording them knocked to their feet by the shockwave.
A Japanese weather satellite captured the moment of the blast which erupted into a fiery mushroom cloud, shattering windows up to several miles away.
The force of the explosions unnerved residents across much of the city of 15 million people and fires were still burning at dawn.
The port, one of the busiest in China, was operating normally, a port official said.
Injured: A survivor is taken to a hospital following the explosion in Tianjin, which killed 44 people and injured up to around 500 others
Shell-shocked: An injured man is covered in blood as he waits in hospital after the explosion at the warehouse in Tianjin
Agony: A firefighter injured in the explosions receives treatment at Teda Hospital in Tianjin, China. At least 11 of his colleagues have died
Stunned: An injured man walks out with other residents from an area near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China
According to state broadcaster CCTV, the first explosion detonated with the force equivalent of three tons of TNT and registered 2.3 on the Richter scale.
The second detonation was equal to 21 tons of TNT and registered 2.9 on the Richter scale.
Zhao Zhencheng, a driver who spent the night in the cab of his truck, said: ‘It was like what we were told a nuclear bomb would be like. I’ve never even thought I’d see such a thing. It was terrifying but also beautiful.’
The port city is a major vehicle hub where about 10,000 imported cars were destroyed – including 2,748 Volkswagens and 1,000 Renaults
The blasts, originating from the Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics Co for hazardous material, turned buildings in the immediate vicinity into charred, skeletal shells and left hundreds of cars reduced to husks
Charred: Damaged cars are seen as smoke rises from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, last night
Destroyed: Rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars are seen near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China, this morning
Mangled: This car was turned into a twisted lump of metal from the force of the explosion in the Binhai New Area in Tianjin, China
Shock: A man looks at a row of damaged cars outside a residential building near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, China, today
Wreckage: Official reports say at least 44 people were killed and hundreds more injured. 32 people are critically injured, and 283 in hospital
Enormous: A satellite photo released by the Japan Meteorological Agency shows the explosion (ringed) above the city of Tianjin in China
Graphs from a seismic station 20 miles from the blast zone in Tianjin shows how the explosions registered 2.3 and 2.9 on the Richter scale
President Xi Jinping demanded that authorities quickly extinguish the fires and ‘make full effort to rescue and treat the injured and ensure the safety of people and their property’, China Central Television (CCTV) said on its official microblog.
He also promised to dish out a severe punishment if anyone was found to be at fault because of the blast.
The Xinhau state news agency said that a warehouse that stored ‘dangerous and chemical goods’ blew up but offered no more details.
The agency has said that 36 firefighters in total are unaccounted for after they first attended a fire at the warehouse before it exploded.
Burnt: Damaged cars are seen as smoke rises from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, on August 13
Blasts: Damaged vehicles are seen under bridges close to the site of the explosions at Binhai new district, Tianjin, early this morning
Undeterred: A driver is seen inside a damaged car on a highway near the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin
Shattered: A worker walks past dormitories damaged by the shockwave from the explosion, which caused devastation for miles away
Devastation: A building is gutted by the huge explosions which hit a warehouse in northeastern China’s Tianjin municipality yesterday
According to the firm which owns the warehouse, the entire facility covers half a million square feet and has up to 70 employees.
Tianjin resident Zhang Siyu, who lives several miles from the blast site, said: ‘I thought it was an earthquake, so I rushed downstairs without my shoes on.
‘Only once I was outside did I realise it was an explosion. There was the huge fireball in the sky with thick clouds. Everybody could see it.’
The resident added that she could see wounded people weeping – and although she did not see anyone who had been killed – she ‘could feel death’.
Fireball: The blast is believed to have erupted in a shipment of explosives at about 11.30pm local time, killing 44 people and injuring 500 others
Inferno: Flames tore through a fleet of Renault cars, damaging more than 1,000, after the explosions at a warehouse late on Wednesday
Apocalyptic: A screen grab from taken from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) footage shows the huge explosion
Tackling the blaze: Firefighters work at the site as smoke and fire rise from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin
Blazing: A firefighter tries to extinguish the flames as fire ravages through a fleet of more than 1,000 cars near the warehouse explosion
Clips posted on Chinese social network Weibo show a fireball shooting into the air and at least two separate explosions, while photos show people in the street apparently covered in blood.
Others images show children being carried in blankets to safety, although the veracity of the pictures could not immediately be confirmed.
The explosions took place in a mostly industrial zone, with some apartment buildings in the vicinity.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was in Tianjin yesterday morning to visit an Airbus assembly plant as part of a two-day trip to China – but returned to Beijing before the explosion.
Explosive: The National Earthquake Bureau reported two blasts before midnight local time in China, which measured on the Richter scale
Huge: Videos of the explosion show flames lighting up the sky and the blast reportedly shattered windows on properties miles away
Frightening: People take shelter on a street after the huge warehouse explosion in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Tianjin yesterday
Crushed windscreen: A damaged vehicle is seen near the site of the blasts in Tianjin yesterday evening as the city learns of the incident
It was claimed that the two explosions happened within 30 seconds of each other and about 100 fire trucks were sent to the scene, with most of the injuries caused by broken glass and stones.
Nine firefighters called to the scene were killed in the blasts, while 36 remained out of contact today.
In one neighbourhood of Tianjin, about ten miles from the blast site, some people were sleeping on the street wearing gas masks.
Local resident Han Xiang said: ‘It was like the earthquake back in 1976 with glass breaking. But then there was a huge mushroom cloud so we thought we were also in a war.’
Liu Junwei, 29, who was working at a luxury Fifth Avenue apartment complex just one mile from the site of the explosion, said the building he was working on had been badly damaged.
Like surrounding buildings, the Mediterranean style complex had all its windows blown out, and some of its surfaces were scorched.
He said: ‘It’s a total loss. Two years of hard work down the drain.’
‘It had been all quiet, then the sky just lit up brighter than day and it looked like a fireworks show,’ said another worker on the site who gave just his surname, Li.
The logistics firm running the warehouse was named by local media as Ruihai Logistics.
The company says on its website that it was established in 2011 and is an approved company for handling hazardous materials. It says it handles one million tons of cargo annually.
After the blast: Smoke and fire are seen following the explosion in the Chinese city of Tianjin yesterday
On the scene: Rescuers are seen in a van near the site of the blasts in Tianjin municipality yesterday evening
The aftermath: There was a huge explosion of inflammable material stored in a warehouse in Tianjin
The National Earthquake Bureau reported two major blasts before midnight local time – the first with an equivalent of 3 tons of TNT, and the second with the equivalent of 21 tons.
Six battalions of firefighters brought the ensuing fire under control, although it is still burning. It was reported that the firefighters were combing the neighbourhood for possible injured residents.
Meanwhile, one resident of Beijing told MailOnline via email: ‘Our cellphones here are receiving warnings that between 4.50am to 5.35am local time based on wind currents that toxic fumes from the explosions will reach Beijing.
‘We are being urged to keep doors and windows closed and avoid going outside. The worst part is that these are then followed by the advice that if you must go out wear a surgical mask.
‘Unless I’ve completely missed my lessons in chemistry, a surgical mask will be entirely ineffective against a toxic cloud from a chemical or gas explosion.
‘It is hard to know who to trust or what to do. My heart and prayers are with the victims and their families. Based on photos I’ve seen, the death toll will rise much higher.’
China has a dismal industrial safety record as some owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.
In July, fifteen people were killed and more than a dozen injured when an illegal fireworks warehouse exploded in the northern Hebei province.
And at least 71 were killed in an explosion at a car parts factory in Kunshan, near Shanghai, in August 2014 last year.
Taking cover: Local residents gather on a street after the explosion rocked the area in north-eastern China
Smoke: Videos posted online showed a fireball shooting into the air and at least two separate explosions
Shock: People react on a street following the blast at about 11.30pm local time in Tianjin, China
Tianjin, which lies about 90 miles southeast of Beijing, is one of China’s biggest cities, with a population of nearly 15 million people according to 2013 figures.
A manufacturing centre and major port for northern China, it is closely linked to Beijing, with a high-speed train line cutting the travel time between them to only 30 minutes.
Like Shanghai, several countries were granted trading ‘concessions’ there during the 19th and early 20th centuries – settlements which were administered by the foreign power – starting with Britain and France in 1860.
The city centre retains a legacy of historic colonial architecture, along with more recent skyscrapers. It is one of only four cities in China – along with Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing – to be a province