According to Reuters, two huge explosions tore through an industrial area where toxic chemicals and gas were stored in the northeast Chinese port city of Tianjin, killed at least 50 people, including at least a dozen fire fighters.
700 people were injured and more than 71 were seriously injured.
Wednesday night’s blasts was so large that they were seen by satellites in space, which sent shockwaves through apartment blocks kilometers away in the port city of 15 million people. Internet videos showed fireballs shooting into the sky and the U.S. Geological Survey registered the blasts as seismic events.
Vast areas of the port – the 10th largest in the world – were devastated, crumpled shipping containers were thrown around like match sticks, hundreds of new cars were torched and port buildings left as burnt-out shells.
I was sleeping when our windows and doors suddenly shook as we heard explosions outside. I first thought it was an earthquake,” Guan Xiang, who lives 7 km (4 miles) away from the explosion site, as he told Reuters by telephone.
He said he saw flames and a mushroom cloud in the sky as he and other residents scrambled to get out of the building.
Tianjin authorities said 12 firefighters were among the 44 who were killed.
The cause of the blasts was being investigated but Xinhua said several containers caught fire beforehand. Industrial accidents are not uncommon in China following three decades of breakneck economic growth. A blast at an auto parts factory in eastern China killed 75 people a year ago when a room filled with metal dust exploded.
The state-run Beijing News earlier cited Tianjin fire authorities as saying they had lost contact with 36 firefighters. By late afternoon, Xinhua reported 18 were missing, while 66 were among the hundreds of people being treated in nearby hospitals.
Xinhua said 1,000 firefighters and more than 140 fire engines were struggling to contain a blaze in a warehouse that held “dangerous goods”.
The volatility of the goods means the fire is especially unpredictable and dangerous to approach,” Xinhua said.
Xi said in a statement carried by official media that those responsible should be “severely handled”.
City officials had met recently with companies to discuss tightening safety standards on the handling of dangerous chemicals. The Tianjin Administration of Work Safety posted a notice about the meeting with companies at the port on its website a week ago.
Photos on Chinese media websites showed residents and workers, some bleeding, fleeing their homes. Xinhua said people had been hurt by broken glass and other flying debris. Authorities told reporters they expected the blasts to have forced 6,000 people from their homes by nightfall.
The blasts shattered windows in buildings and cars and knocked down walls in a 2-km radius around the site. Photographs on news websites showed burned-out cars inside a multi-storey car park at a logistics base at the port.
Videos on various social medial sites from what appeared to be an apartment building some distance from the scene showed an initial blast followed by a second, much bigger, explosion. Shockwaves hit the building seconds later.
Our building is shaking. Is this an atomic bomb?” said a frenzied voice inside.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Beijing environmental emergency response center, as well as 214 Chinese military nuclear and biochemical materials specialists, had gone to Tianjin, the news agency said.
It had been identified that the owner of the warehouse as, Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics. The company’s website said it was a government-approved firm specializing in handling “dangerous goods”. Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to an assessment by government environmental inspectors published in 2014, the facility was designed to store several dangerous and toxic chemicals including butanone, an explosive industrial solvent, sodium cyanide and compressed natural gas.