Beijing (dpa) – Explosions and a fireball at a chemical warehouse killed at least 50 people in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Tianjin, news reports said Thursday.
The magnitude of the initial blast late Wednesday was similar to 3 tons of TNT exploding and a second blast’s magnitude was equivalent to 21 tons of TNT, China’s earthquake bureau said Thursday.
“We all thought it was an earthquake and got dressed quickly and ran outside,” said a student who lives with her family one block from the explosion site and would give her name only as Liu.
The explosions blew out windows and tore doors off their hinges as their shockwaves spread kilometres away. Videos of the mushroom-shaped fireball rising over the city skyline and photographs of bloodied people fleeing the scene flooded social media.
Seventy-one patients out of a total of 701 people being treated in hospital were in critical condition after the blasts in the city of 10 million people, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing rescue headquarters.
A dozen firefighting crews had responded to a warehouse fire late Wednesday, and the first blast occurred about 11:30 pm (1530 GMT), 40 minutes after the first fire crew had arrived, Xinhua reported.
Twelve firefighters were among the dead, Xinhua reported. Twenty-one were missing.
China’s national fire department said on its microblog that a fire started about 10:50 pm Wednesday in a Ruihai Logistics Company warehouse storing “dangerous chemicals” before the fatal blasts.
Nine more fire crews were sent as reinforcements after the explosion as about 1,000 firefighters were deployed.
“We are focusing on putting out the fire and rescuing injured people,” district director Zhang Yong said. “I am not able to give the precise reason that caused the fire.”
Managers for Ruihai Logistics were detained and questioned, and President Xi Jinping promised in a speech addressed to the people of Tianjin that the accident would be investigated and those responsible punished.
“I was sitting on my bed when I suddenly heard a loud bang,” Lin Chen, 27, who lives about 10 kilometres from the accident site, said by telephone. “The windows began vibrating. It was like an earthquake.”
An estimated 6,000 people will have to be resettled because of the destruction caused by the blasts, authorities said.
Most of the injured suffered wounds from broken glass or flying debris, Xinhua reported. Thick, dark clouds of smoke filled the sky over the harbour.
“A ceiling in our building collapsed, but no one was injured,” Liu said. “This morning, there is still dark smoke in the sky.”
State media reports said the fire was brought under control Thursday but not extinguished. Dangerous levels of poisonous materials were not detected in the air Thursday, the reports said.
After the first explosion, the fire spread to other warehouses, and buildings belonging to a dozen logistics firms were destroyed. The Yicai financial newspaper reported that more than 2,700 newly built Volkswagen cars parked near the accident site were laid to waste.