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Authorities pull more bodies from massive blast site in the Chinese port of Tianjin

NewsBy Neil Fetherston
Authorities pull more bodies from massive blast site in the Chinese port of Tianjin

Authorities have pulled more bodies from a massive blast site in the Chinese port of Tianjin, pushing the death toll to 112 as teams scrambled to clear dangerous chemical contamination.

Hundreds of people were injured and 85 firefighters and 10 others are missing since a fire and rapid succession of blasts late on Wednesday hit a warehouse for hazardous chemicals in a mostly industrial area of Tianjin, 120km east of Beijing.

By Sunday, authorities confirmed there were “several hundred” tons of the toxic chemical sodium cyanide on the site at the time of the blasts, although they said there have not been any devastating leaks.

Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical that can form a flammable gas upon contact with water. Earlier state media reports said the warehouse was storing 700 tons of the chemical – 70 times more than it should have been holding at one time.

Angry relatives of the missing firefighters and local residents whose homes were destroyed by the blasts showed up at a government news conference to demand information and accountability.

The death toll includes at least 21 firefighters — making the disaster the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than six decades. About 1,000 firefighters responded to the disaster, and 85 of them remained unaccounted for on Sunday.

The public has raised concerns whether firefighters were put into harm’s way in the initial response to the fire and whether the hazardous material — including compounds combustible on contact with water — was properly taken into account in the way the firefighters responded.

The massive explosions happened about 40 minutes after reports of a fire at the warehouse and after an initial wave of firefighters arrived and, reportedly, doused some of the area with water.

Outside the Mayfair Hotel where the authorities hold regular news conferences, a woman pleaded for information on her husband.

“(They) have said nothing. We know nothing,” the woman said. “We’ve been told nothing.”

Another man demanded information from a government official. “We’ve been here for three days and we’ve not had one piece of information,” he said.

Local officials have been hard-pressed to explain why authorities permitted hazardous goods warehouses so close to residential complexes and critical infrastructure, clearly in violation of the Chinese rule that “hazmat” storage should be 1,000 metres away from homes and public structures.