Friday 18 October 2019

Tianjin explosion residents demand compensation in protest

Demonstrators protest outside a hotel where officials held daily media conferences in north eastern China's Tianjin municipality. (AP)
Demonstrators protest outside a hotel where officials held daily media conferences in north eastern China's Tianjin municipality. (AP)

Around 100 people whose homes were damaged in a deadly explosion in the Chinese port of Tianjin have gathered for a protest to demand compensation from the government.

The death toll from the disaster last Wednesday stands at 114 with 70 still missing.

The blasts stared at a warehouse for hazardous material, where hundreds of tons of sodium cyanide - a toxic chemical that can form combustible substances on contact with water - were being stored in amounts that violated safety rules.

It prompted contamination fears and a major clean-up of a 1.8-mile radius, cordoned off area in the city south-east of Beijing.

Chinese work safety rules require such facilities to be at least 1,000 metres away from residences, public buildings and highways. But online map searches show the Ruihai International Logistics warehouse was within 500 metres of both an expressway and a 100,000-square-metre apartment complex.

The apartments had walls singed and windows shattered, and all the residents have been evacuated.

"We victims demand: Government, buy back our houses," said a banner carried by the residents at a protest outside the Tianjin hotel where officials have held daily news conferences about the disaster. "Kids are asking: How can we grow up healthy?" read another banner.

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 substantial leaks. Authorities also said they had sealed all waterways leading into the sea from the blast site.

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

Tianjin officials have ordered a city-wide check on any potential safety risks and violation of fire rules, mandating suspension of operations for factories that cannot immediately comply with safety rules. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Tianjin on Sunday, visiting those injured and displaced by the disaster.

The death toll includes at least 21 firefighters - making the disaster the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than six decades.

Beijing has ordered a nationwide check on workplace safety and to correct all irregularities five days after the incident.

The directive from the ministry of industry and information technology lamented the frequency of fatal workplace incidents and demanded a thorough national inspection on all safety risks.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have been tasked with investigating possible dereliction of duties and abuse of power that may have contributed to Wednesday night's blasts.

"We must thoroughly investigate (the incident) and hold accountable all those responsible," said Mr Li, as quoted by state media. "We must give an answer for families of the victims, an answer for all residents of Tianjin, an answer for all Chinese people, and an answer for history."

PA Media

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