Tuesday 17 July 2018

Chinese blast zone is blocked off over toxic chemical fear

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

Paul Traynor in Tianjin

Authorities have pulled more bodies from a massive blast site at China's Tianjin port, pushing the death toll to 112.

As teams rushed to clear dangerous chemicals, prosecutors prepared an investigation into those deemed responsible for the disaster.

More than 700 people were injured and 95 people, including dozens of firefighters, are still missing after 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.

Authorities have confirmed that there were "several hundred" tons of the toxic chemical sodium cyanide on the site at the time of the blasts, although they said there had not been any substantial leaks.

Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical that can form a flammable gas upon contact with water. Several hundred tons would be a clear violation of rules cited by state media that the warehouse could store no more than 10 tons at a time.

Tianjin officials have ordered a citywide check on any potential safety risks and violation of fire rules. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Tianjin yesterday, visiting those injured and displaced by the disaster.

The country's top prosecuting office has announced that it is setting up a team to investigate possible offences, including dereliction of duty.

Zhi Feng, general manager of the warehouse's operator, Ruihai International Logistics, has been under police watch while he receives medical treatment to ensure that he does not flee during an investigation, state media reported without giving further details. Zhi was hospitalized after being injured in the disaster.

The death toll includes at least 21 firefighters and their toll could go much higher. About 1,000 firefighters responded to the disaster and 85 remain unaccounted for.

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

Irish Independent

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