China Searches for Clues, Toxic Chemicals After Warehouse Explosion

中国当局继续调查天津大爆炸原因
Damaged buildings and cars are seen near the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin, Aug.13, 2015.

VOA News,August 14, 2015

Chinese authorities are continuing an investigation into what caused two gigantic explosions at a warehouse in a main port city, as locals expressed fears about the possible presence of dangerous chemicals near the site.

Several small fires were still smoldering early Friday at the site of the blasts, which occurred late Wednesday in a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in a mostly industrial neighborhood in the northeastern city of Tianjin.

Officials say at least 50 people were killed and 700 others injured, with 70 in serious condition. It is not known how many people are missing, and there are widespread expectations that the death toll will continue to grow.

A team of 217 military nuclear and biochemical specialists, along with a group from the International Atomic Energy Agency's Beijing office, have been dispatched to the area, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Tianjin safety authorities said Friday they have not determined what specific dangerous chemicals were stored in the warehouses.

The investigation has been hampered by the potentially dangerous situation on the ground, according to Nankai University School of Environmental Science professor Feng Yinchang.

"There's a lot about the situation on the ground that's not very clear - exactly what pollutants, what exploded, also what there is...we don't know," said Feng at a press conference with government officials. "If the situation is not clear, we can't clearly determine what kind of pollutants were emitted into the air."

Officials quoted by Xinhua said there are "major discrepancies between the accounts of company management and customs." Management officials of the company that operated the warehouse have already been brought into custody.

High densities of toxic gases, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides were detected within 500 meters of the fire, according to Tianjin's environmental office on Thursday. But it said toxic fumes within the city are "within national standards."

Tianjin municipal authorities have set up 22 monitoring stations, five of which are checking water quality, according to the China Daily. It said hazardous substances, including a highly toxic cyanide, were found three times and eight times higher than normal during a test of two drainage outlets near the blast site.

A report in the state-run Beijing News reported earlier that at least 700 tons of sodium cyanide were being held at the warehouse. The report, which was later removed, said the toxic chemical had been detected in sewage samples.

Many locals were on edge Friday and public skepticism over the government's accounts was widespread, due in part to the Chinese government's well-documented record of playing down environmental and pollution hazards.

The first explosion took place just after 11:30 p.m. local time Wednesday, followed shortly by a second more powerful blast. China's National Earthquake Bureau said the first blast was the equivalent of 3 tons of TNT, and the second 21 tons.

Pictures and videos showed gigantic plumes of fire and a mushroom cloud that dwarfed nearby high-rise buildings and sent out a massive shockwave that rattled residents several kilometers from the blast site.

Tianjin is a port city in northeastern China, about 150 kilometers southeast of Beijing, and is home to more than 15 million people. It is China's fourth largest city.

In the U.S., the White House sent its condolences; spokesman Ned Price called the explosions a tragedy and praised the first responders working to help the injured.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement extended his condolences to the families of the victims, including the fire fighters, who, he said, "made the ultimate sacrifice."

Chinese officials say over a dozen firefighters were killed in the explosion. Many more are believed to be missing.

中国当局继续调查天津大爆炸原因

美国之音,2015年8月14日

中国当局继续对主要港口城市天津一个仓库发生两次巨大爆炸的原因进行调查,当地居民担心爆炸现场附近可能存在有毒化学物。

星期五清晨,爆炸现场仍有几处小火没有扑灭。星期三晚间,一个储存危险化学品的仓库发生爆炸。

有关官员说,爆炸造成至少50人死亡,约700人受伤,其中70人伤势严重。现在还不清楚失踪的人数。人们广泛认为死亡人数将继续增多。

中国官方的新华社说,一支由217名中国军队核生化专家组成的工作队以及国际原子能机构驻北京办事处人员已经前往爆炸现场。

天津安全部门星期五说,尚未查明仓库中储存的究竟是哪种危险化学品。

南开大学环境科学学院教授冯银厂说,由于爆炸现场可能存在危险,调查工作受到阻碍。

新华社的报道说,大多数死伤者是生活在附近居住区的外来打工者。

第一次爆炸发生在当地时间星期三晚间11点半刚过的时候,不久后发生第二次大爆炸。中国国家地震局说,第一次爆炸相当于三吨TNT炸药的爆炸,第二次则相当于21吨。

一名住在离爆炸现场5公里外的英语教师告诉美国之音说,当时是一阵强风,很不自然的强风,之后是非常非常大的强风和一点晃动。他说,“我们看到滚滚浓烟和后来非常清楚的火光。”

中国媒体说,爆炸发生在瑞海国际物流公司拥有的一个仓库。地方当局表示,这家公司的高层管理人员已经被拘捕。

天津市中国东北部一个港口城市,位于北京东南150公里的地方。天津市有1500多万人口,是中国第四大城市。

在美国,白宫向死难者表示慰问。发言人普莱斯城爆炸事件是一个悲剧,并赞扬了在第一时间赶到现场的救援人员对伤者的帮助。

联合国秘书长潘基文发布声明对遇难者、包括那些消防队员们的家属表示慰问,他说,那些消防队员们为此献出生命。