Officials mum on cause of Tianjin blasts
A LACK of answers about vast explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin yesterday reinforced questions about standards in the country, where campaigners say lives are sacrificed amid a lack of respect for safety and poor implementation.
At least 50 people died and more than 700 were injured in the Wednesday night-time blasts that devastated one of China's showpiece industrial landscapes, incinerating imported cars and scattering shipping containers in the 10th-largest port in the world.
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".
"Only after firemen reached the scene, then there was an explosion," Zhang Yong, the head of Binhai New District, told a press conference.
The cause of the fire and explosion were still under investigation, Mr Zhang said, declining to elaborate or provide any theories.
The panel of officials was peppered with questions about what chemicals were in the tanks that exploded, but refused to provide details. The briefing ended abruptly with the officials rushing off stage.
"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.
The blasts, so large that they were seen by satellites in space, sent shockwaves through apartment blocks kilometres away in the port city of 15 million people.
Internet videos showed fireballs shooting into the sky and the United States Geological Survey registered the blasts as seismic events.
An Agence France-Presse reporter saw shattered glass up to 3km from the site of the blast.
The force of the first explosion was the equivalent of three tonnes of TNT, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said on its Weibo account, followed by a second blast equal to 21 tonnes.
"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 7km away from the explosion site, told Reuters by telephone.
The 24-year-old said he saw flames and a mushroom cloud in the sky as he scrambled to get out of the building. Other residents, some partially clothed, ran for shelter on a street strewn with debris.
Plumes of smoke still billowed over buildings hours after the blast, which occurred shortly before midnight local time.
"Of course I was afraid, how can you not be afraid?" asked a man as he looked at his apartment block behind a police cordon. "I ran, I grabbed my child and my wife, and ran."
Young volunteers distributed bottles of water to weeping relatives in the hospital's hallways. Outside the hospital, volunteers set up tents, serving steaming bowls of meat and vegetables.
State broadcaster CCTV said in a Twitter post that President Xi Jinping had urged "all-out efforts to rescue victims and extinguish the fire".
In a statement carried by the official media, Mr Xi also said that those responsible should be "severely handled".
City officials had recently met 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.