The death toll from blasts at China’s Tianjin port has risen to 104, Xinhua said, citing local authorities. People earlier Saturday were evacuated from a 2-mile zone around the industrial site on contamination fears.
China sent a team of nuclear and biochemical emergency military workers to the area east of Beijing to search for survivors, the Ministry of National Defense said. The evacuations came amid chemical contamination fears, the Beijing News reported, citing unidentified people at local government agencies including traffic control and environmental protection.
The deadly explosions Wednesday at a storage site for hazardous materials exposed weaknesses in how chemicals are transported and stored in China, prompting the State Council Work Safety Commission to order nationwide inspections. Local governments have until Sept. 15 to report back. Tianjin, the world’s 10th-busiest port, has become a gateway to northern China for shipments of metal ore, coal, autos and crude oil.
Preliminary investigations of warehouse transactions show loading and arrival areas may have cargoes containing toxic chemicals including trichloroethylene and sodium cyanide, said Gao Huaiyou, deputy director of the Tianjin Administration of Work Safety.
People from nearby shelters around the warehouse district were evacuated about 10:50 a.m. Saturday because a change in wind direction could disperse hazardous pollutants, state-run Xinhua reported. Volunteers told people to wear long-sleeved clothes and masks and to leave in an orderly fashion, the news agency said.
The air Friday evening fell below the “safe standard,” forcing rescuers to temporarily leave the vicinity, Xinhua reported. The State Oceanic Administration has tried to soothe public concerns over pollution by saying no hazardous chemicals were detected in waters off the blast site.
The death toll included at least 21 firefighters, the highest for a single rescue mission since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Xinhua said. The 722 hospitalized include 25 critically injured and 33 in serious condition, the news agency reported.
Officials acknowledged that first responders did not know what was on fire and used water to put out flames, which then caused more explosions, according to Xinhua.
More than 1,000 firefighters, including hundreds from neighboring Hebei province, remain on the scene, said Zhou Tian, the municipal firefighting bureau chief.
Executives of Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co., the operator of the location of the explosions, are in police custody, Xinhua said Thursday. Shipping and logistics operations at the port were still disrupted Friday.
Tianjin is home to manufacturing operations for companies including Deere & Co., which said it temporarily suspended operations in the northeastern city.
— With assistance by Julian Lee