Death toll in China's Tianjin port blasts rises to 104

Last Updated : 15 August 2015, 15:43 IST
Last Updated : 15 August 2015, 15:43 IST

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The death toll in twin blasts in this Chinese port city today shot up to 104 even as experts confirmed the presence of deadly sodium cyanide and minor explosions and fires continued to hamper rescue work.

Rescue headquarters said 721 people were admitted to hospitals of which 25 have sustained critical injuries whole the death toll from explosions has risen to 104. The condition of 33 injured was stated to be serious, local officials said.

There were 21 firefighters among the dead, the highest so far in China's recent history. Official media reports said 36 firefighters were still missing.

Nuclear and biological detections teams found evidence of sodium cyanide, a deadly chemical that emits highly toxic gases if it is burnt or comes in contact with water along with other chemicals.

President Xi Jinping has asked officials to learn from the "extremely profound" lessons paid for with blood.

Xi said in written instructions that the Tianjin blasts and a string of serious accidents recently exposed severe problems in the work safety sector, and authorities must always keep "safe growth" and "people's interest first" in mind to avoid such accidents.

He demanded a better emergency response mechanism, greater implementation of work safety measures and rule, and careful checks of all possible safety risks, to achieve "substantial improvement" in work safety, Xinhua reported.

While confirming the presence of cyanide, state run CCTV said the substance in the form of crystal powder can be rapidly fatal if it is inhaled or injected as it interferes with the body's ability to breathe oxygen.

When it devolves with water or burnt it releases highly toxic gas hydrogen cyanide, it said.

It is grim news for this port town of 7.5 million people as the city is already concerned about foul air and is located just about 115 kms from capital Beijing.
There were protests from frustrated relatives of the missing firefighters demanding answers on their loved ones' fate as specialised anti-chemical warfare soldiers recovered one survivor.

A man in his fifties was rescued from the blasts site this afternoon, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Soldiers found him 50 meters away from a burst point. He was conscious and could talk and was rushed to a hospital in the city, the report said.

A total of 70 anti-chemical warfare soldiers entered the core area of the blast site this morning to search for possible survivors for the first time after the blasts shook the area on Wednesday night.

Indian officials said one Indian employee of commercial firm was among the injured and his condition was stable.

Meanwhile, emotional scenes prevailed at the hotel where officials briefed media as over dozen family members of the missing firemen demonstrated calling for more information on their missing relatives.

State-run TV CCTV reported that the relatives wanted the government to provide more details about the whereabouts of their dear ones and efforts made to locate them.

A day after the blasts, the Chinese army had deployed 217 military specialists in nuclear and biochemical materials to deal with foul air as the warehouse where blasts took place stored dangerous chemicals, cyanide and combustible materials.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection today said that chemical oxygen demand and cyanide have been detected in the underground pipelines of blocked discharge outlets in the area affected by the explosions, with the excessive discharge three to eight times higher than the standard.

"The level of six chemicals in the five monitoring stations has not significantly risen, and is consistent with other parts of the city," Wen Wurui, head of the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau, told the media.

Senior management of Ruihai International Logistics had been detained by authorities. Investigations are to find out the cause of the explosions, officials said.
Official media reports earlier said the warehouse where the explosions took place stored over 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide and traces of the chemical were found in nearby drains after the blasts. It is still not known to where this high quantity of the deadly substance was to be exported.

Experts say sodium cyanide is used for mining of gold and other metal substances. The big stock of cyanide is kept along with potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate.
Officials are sealing drains to prevent leaks into the city's drainage system.

Meanwhile a young firefighter, Lin Yutao, who was among the first batch of firemen to rush to put off the fires at the warehouse recovered from his injuries and told media that they were not informed about the presence of the deadly chemicals confirming reports that use of water by the firefighters had resulted in the massive blasts as cyanide reacts explosively to water.

As nuclear and biological teams cautiously collected the samples, more fires broke out in the area. Some reports said more explosions have taken place.

Officials said measures have been taken to prevent secondary disasters, such as inviting sodium cyanide producers to help at the site, using hydrogen peroxide to reduce the amount of sodium cyanide, sending a taskforce to locate and measure the contaminated area and prevent spread in sewage.

At 17 monitoring sites, no cyanide was detected as of now although at one site the density of xylene exceeded normal standard, said Bao Jingling, chief engineer of the municipal bureau of environmental protection, Xinhua reported.

Air quality at the sites was between good and slightly polluted, an official said.

Published 15 August 2015, 15:43 IST

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