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The morning after the Tianjin catastrophe

Last updated on: August 13, 2015 17:42 IST

At least 44 people have been killed and over 520 injured, 66 of them seriously, in twin blasts reportedly caused by combustible and explosive goods stored in containers at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin, state media reported on Thursday.

The blasts ripped through the Ruihai warehouse, which stores dangerous goods, at 11.20 pm local time on Wednesday, following a fire report half an hour earlier. Fireballs erupted then ignited more explosions in companies nearby. The massive blasts were caused by combustible and explosive goods stored in containers at the warehouse, official People's Daily online reported.

Here's a look at the devastation:

Damaged cars are seen as smoke rises from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin, China. Photograph: Reuters

In one of China's worst industrial disasters, the twin blasts occurred at the Ruihai warehouse at 11.20 pm local time on Wednesday, following a fire report half an hour earlier.

Fireballs erupted then ignited more explosions in companies nearby, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Over 10,000 people have been reportedly evacuated from the nearby areas. Authorities said fires were now "under initial control" but the personnel continued to battle blazes by spraying dry powder and burying areas in sand.

State-run CCTV said firefighters could not use water to put it out due to presence of chemicals and instead has to use sand and other materials to contain it.

A firefighter rests on a highway, near the site of the explosions, as smoke rises at the Binhai new district. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

A dozen firefighters were among the 44 killed while 21 others remained missing. At least 52 of the total 521 injured were said to be critical.

The Tianjin fire brigade said the warehouse contained dangerous goods, making the fire unpredictable and dangerous to approach and that it had sent 1,000 firefighters and 143 fire engines to the spot, around 140 kilometres from the capital Beijing.

TV footage showed massive explosions in the city. The first explosion occurred was followed seconds later by another, more powerful and a series of smaller blasts.

The shock waves were felt kilometre away, with window glass of buildings shattered.

The China Earthquake Networks Centre said the magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating three tonnes of TNT, while the second was the equivalent of 21 tonnes.

Damaged cars are seen as smoke rises from the debris after the explosions at the Binhai new district in Tianjin. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

The impact of the blasts could be felt several kilometers away, and was registered as seismic activity at a US Geological Survey monitoring unit in Beijing.

TV footage also showed huge mushroom cloud and fire far off, with fire still raging at the place of explosions and huge smoke billowing out.

A man wears a mask while resting outside after the explosions. Photograph: Reuters

Many eyewitnesses said they initially thought it was an earthquake as the ground shook very strongly.

A media report quoted a truck driver as saying that "it was like what we were told a nuclear bomb would be like. I've never even thought I'd see such a thing. It was terrifying, but also beautiful."

Most of the patients suffered burns, bruises, bone fractures and injuries related to the shock waves.

Xinhua reported that there are people trapped inside the blast site and rescue operation is still going on. The injured have been sent to several hospitals nearby.

A damaged truck is seen on a highway near the site of the explosions. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Six firefighters killed on duty have been identified. In hospitals, blood could be seen everywhere on the floors. While the footage of the explosions went viral on the Chinese social media, there were several eyewitness accounts describing the blasts as similar to nuclear blasts.

Xinhua quoted Du Wenjun, a resident, as saying that he never imagined that he could see a "mushroom cloud" outside the window of his own home.

Damaged vehicles are seen under bridges close to the site of the explosions. Photograph: Reuters

When the blast occurred, Du felt strong jolts and saw a huge column of smoke not far away. Zhao Lirong, 35, a businesswoman from Inner Mongolia, was sleeping when the blast blew off the windows and doors in her apartment, hitting her head, her son's neck and her husband's feet.

A large number of people rushed into the streets in pyjamas due to hour at which the blasts occurred. Chemicals at a container terminal exploded in Binhai New Area in Tianjin.

Smoke rises from shipping containers after the explosions. Photograph: Reuters

The rolling doors and window glass of Donghai Road terminal station of Jinbin light railway, which serves as a major link between the Binhai New Area and the downtown Tianjin, were broken.

Its roof also partially collapsed.

A driver is seen inside a damaged car on a highway near the site of the explosions. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Minor fires and blasts could still be seen from a far distance early on Thursday.

As soon as the explosion was under control, some taxi drivers and private car owners have voluntarily helped with sending the wounded to hospitals. Volunteers have arrived at hospitals for blood donation, and taxi drivers and private car owners offered help to transport the wounded to hospitals.

Damaged cars are seen through the damaged window of a building as smoke rises from the debris. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

Several hotels have provided free accommodation to residents displaced by the blast.

Schools and other sites near the warehouse opened to help the injured. An aquarium further away also offered its service centre and other amenities to the public round the clock for the rest of this week, to help aid distribution and blood donations.

A man checks his mobile phone near overturned shipping containers. Photograph: Reuters

The office building housing Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-1, one of the world's fastest supercomputers, suffered damage. Sources at Tianhe-1 told Xinhua the computer is not damaged, but they have shut down some of its operations as a precaution.

 

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