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Official: 114 dead, 70 missing in Tianjin blasts

Updated: Aug 16,2015 11:55 AM     Xinhua

TIANJIN — A total of 114 bodies have been found, and 70 people remain missing, after Aug 12 night’s warehouse explosions rocked north China’s Tianjin city, officials said at a news conference on Aug 17.

Premier Li Keqiang arrived at the site of Tianjin blasts on the afternoon of Aug 12. He visit firefighters, rescuers and those injured in the calamity, as well as gave instructions on rescue operations, treatment of the injured and handling of the aftermath and production safety.

Two huge explosions took place in a warehouse for hazardous chemicals at about 11:30 pm on Aug 12 following a fire.

Cleaning and rescue

Rescuers are cleaning hundreds of tonnes of cyanide at the blast site, most of which was unaffected, said Shi Luze, chief of staff of the Beijing Military Area Command.

Shi said rescuers were using hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the toxins and building cofferdams to enclose the damaged barrels, while trucking away those intact. Only safe levels of harmful gas were detected near the blast site, he added.

He said more than 2,000 rescuers are searching and cleaning hazardous chemicals outside the core area of the blast site.

Some military chemical specialists found different types of chemicals, including magnesium particles and sulfur scattered in some buildings near the core area.

Two from the group collected three water samples and three earth samples from a large pool that formed at the center of the blast site. The samples have been handed over to environmental authorities for testing.

Bao Jingling, chief engineer of the city’s bureau of environmental protection, said among the 17 monitoring sites outside the quarantined area, two reported readings of hydrogen cyanide slightly above the normal standards which would not pose threat to health.

As of the night of Aug 15, wastewater collected from the area had been transferred to a local treatment center.

Even though the 72-hour golden period for saving lives has ended, the rescuers have repeatedly combed through damaged structures and containers at the blast site for miracles.

“We have tried our outmost and hoped to reach every corner to find survivors,” Shi said.

Injured and displaced

A total of 698 people remained in hospital, including 57 in critical or serious conditions, and 77 others have been discharged. More than 200 medical experts and over 4,000 other health workers are treating the injured.

With bruises on his face, firefighter Liao Jiancheng spent his 23rd birthday on Aug 13 at TEDA Hospital. He was among the three who survived the explosions aboard a fire engine, while five others died.

“As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘Mom, I lost many buddies’,” said his mother. “He’s lucky, only slightly injured.”

The young man from central China’s Hunan province also sustained a broken bone in his foot and bruises on his arms.

Despite the tragedy, Liao said he wants to continue his profession, because he was “loath to part with my comrades-in-arms.”

Zhou Ti, a 19-year-old firefighter who was rescued on the morning of Aug 14, is in stable condition after being treated in thoracic surgery department of TEDA. He can have liquid food starting from the morning of Aug 16.

Han Fengqun, a 50-something man who was rescued 50 meters away from a burst point on the afternoon of Aug 15, however, is in critical condition for respiratory failure caused by serious lung damage, according to sources with the No. 254 hospital in Tianjin.

Local authorities are working on a compensation plan for residents in a community worst hit by the blasts, according to Zhang Chuanjie, an official with the Binhai New Area, where the warehouse was located.

The subsidies are expected to help the residents to take temporary dwellings in the next quarter, Zhang said, adding that it would take a long time for the damaged apartments to be revamped.

Located only about 600 meters away from the blast site, the community had two residents killed and nearly all doors and windows destroyed.

Covering more than 40,000 square meters, the complex accommodates more than 3,100 households in 44 high-rises.

The residents will be allowed into homes to get their property in the following days, Zhang said.

Official misconduct?

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate announced on Aug 16 it has begun to investigate whether there is any dereliction of duty involved in the explosions.

As of Aug 16, no officials nor the company handling the warehouse of Ruihai International Logistics Co. Ltd, has been held accountable for the explosions, but the procuratorate said it will look into possible illegal acts, such as abuse of power or dereliction of duty and deal with those acts which may constitute crimes.

A commentary published on Aug 15 by the newspaper affiliated to the top anti-graft watchdog said industrial tragedies revealed loopholes in China’s law enforcement, urban planning and supervision, as it went on to question why several communities of over 5,600 households were located within 1,000 meters of the warehouse for dangerous chemicals.

“Until the moment of the explosions, the communities’ developers and residents did not know they had lived right beside a ‘volcano’,” the commentary said.

“The sputtering flames engulfed not only lives and property, but also the sense of security,” it said. “It again called public attentions to the question of ‘how to guarantee people’s lives and property’.”

Ten more bodies were found on Aug 15 after the announcement of 104 deaths, but four mutilated remains were later confirmed as belonging to two victims, according to Gong Jiansheng, vice-head of the city’s publicity department.

Twenty four victims have been identified, Gong said.

The missing firefighters included 13 in active service, and 72 working for the Tianjin Port Group Co, he added.

Two huge explosions took place in a warehouse for hazardous chemicals at about 11:30 pm on Aug 12 following a fire.

A total of 722 people remained hospitalized, including 58 in critical or serious conditions, the rescue headquarters said on Aug 15.