China Investigates Massive Explosion

This photo taken on August 13, 2015 shows a destroyed car as a fire continues to burn after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, in northern China.

VOA News,August 15, 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.

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.

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."