Explosions hamper cyanide clearing work at China blast site

Recurring explosions setting off fires continue to hamper attempts by nuclear and biological warfare experts to clear hundreds of tonnes of highly poisonous cyanide stored at a warehouse devastated by twin powerful blasts which killed 112 in this Chinese port city.

PTI| Updated: Aug 17, 2015, 12:59 PM IST

Tianjin: Recurring explosions setting off fires continue to hamper attempts by nuclear and biological warfare experts to clear hundreds of tonnes of highly poisonous cyanide stored at a warehouse devastated by twin powerful blasts which killed 112 in this Chinese port city.

Two explosions - one last evening and another this morning - were reported as expert teams announced plans to intensify search for survivors and bodies.

The dead included 21 free fighters, the highest so far in a tragedy in China's recent history.

Over 720 people were injured in the blasts. Nearly 100 people remain missing, including 85 firefighters.

Officials fear more blasts due to rains today as the chemicals explode when come in contact with water.

The explosions took place as rescuers began cleaning hundreds of tonnes of cyanide at the blast site, most of which was unaffected raising fears of the possibility for contaminating air and water sources.

Shi Luze, chief of staff of the Beijing Military Area Command, yesterday said that rescuers were using hydrogen peroxide to neutralise 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 over 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 sulphur scattered in some buildings near the core area.

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.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who visited the areas yesterday, ordered equal treatment for all firefighters who died in the deadly blasts. He said that they should enjoy the same compensation and honour no matter if they were in active service or employed by enterprises.

Li's remarks came as protests broke out yesterday in Tianjin with local residents and families of the missing firefighters demanding more information and government aid.

More than 15 relatives of firefighters who were employed by Tianjin Port Group reportedly came to the Mayfair Hotel in Binhai New Area, where authorities had held press conferences in the previous days, to ask for more information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. Li paid special respects to the firemen who were killed in the incident and visited those who are recovering in the hospitals.

Xue Tao, whose firefighter brother is missing, told the Global Times that his brother had been a port firefighter for three years and he must have been among the first group to enter into the blast zone since their station is nearby.

"We have prepared for the worst, but we insist on seeing him, alive or dead," Xue told the state-run paper.

Meanwhile, more than 100 residents whose homes were damaged protested outside the Mayfair Hotel yesterday, asking the government to purchase their properties to compensate for their loss.

One man, surnamed Zhang, said he and his family are living at a temporary shelter after evacuating from their home in Qihang Community, 800 meters from the blast site.

He said he hopes the government will find them alternative accommodation and arrange psychological counselling.

More than 17,000 people were living in property that was damaged in the blast, China News Service reported.

Li Wei, a resident of Haigangcheng Community, only 600 meters from the blast site, told the Global Times that residents worry chemicals may harm their health and that there might be another explosion.

Meanwhile, as the government ordered inquiry into the incident there were conflicting reports of the ownership warehouse, Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics where the explosions took place.

One of its two major shareholders was quoted by news portal finance.Qq.Com as saying that he knew nothing about the company, the Global Times said.

Shu Zheng, who owns 45 percent of the company's shares, said a friend used his identity to register as a shareholder of the company and he did not participate in the company's operation.

Nothing could be found about another listed shareholder Li Liang so far, the report said.

Authorities had refuted rumours that the general manager of the company, Zhi Feng, has connection with a former deputy mayor of Tianjin.