The city of Tianjin, a busy port city in Northeast China, was rocked by two powerful blasts Wednesday night, which occurred in a warehouse owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co. Ltd., which stores and transports dangerous chemicals. Chinese news media reports the company was founded in 2011 and has freight volume of about 1 million tonnes per year, with annual revenue exceeding 30 million yuan (US$4.7 million). The company was found to have violated safety standards during an inspection of packaging two years ago, Reuters reported.
According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, chemicals stored by the logistics company include sodium cyanide (NaCN), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and calcium carbide (CaC2), all of which pose direct threats to human health on contact. NaCN is particularly toxic, and CaC2 and TDI react violently with water and reactive chemicals, with risk of explosion. This presents a challenge for firefighters, especially considering rain in the local weather forecast. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said sodium cyanide releases hydrogen cyanide gas, which interferes with the ability to breathe and can be “rapidly fatal.”
According to Reuters, crumpled shipping containers were thrown about like matchsticks at the Tianjin port, the world’s tenth largest. Hundreds of new cars were torched and several portside buildings were burned-out shells. President Xi Jinping said in a statement that those responsible should be “severely handled.” The Guardian reported that the owners of the logistics company have been detained.
The two blasts were visible from outer space according to satellite photos released by the Japan Meteorological Agency. Internet videos show fireballs shooting into the sky, and the U.S. Geological Survey registered the blasts as seismic events.
Xinhau news agency said 17 of the dead were firefighters. The Tianjin Port Group Co. said dozens of its employees were unaccounted for and a search operation was under way. More than 700 people were admitted to hospitals, with 70 or more in critical condition.