Update: At least 114 dead after Tianjin Port explosion

Update: At least 114 dead after Tianjin Port explosion
Burnt out Volkswagen cars at Tianjin port (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

As of 17 August, a minimum of 114 people have died after the huge explosion caused by a shipment of explosives in a warehouse for hazardous goods operated by Ruihai Logistics, at the Chinese port of Tianjin, north of Beijing.

At least 70 people, mostly firefighters, are still missing while more than 720 people have been taken to hospital and at least 6,000 people displaced according to state media.

The explosions at about 23:30 pm local time (17.30 UK time) last Wednesday (12 August), sent massive fireballs into the sky and were powerful enough that the shockwaves knocked people over several kilometres away, according to local media reports.

Nearby buildings were severely damaged, along with goods stored at the port, including rows of Volkswagen cars that were completely burnt out.

The official Xinhua News agency said an initial explosion triggered other blasts nearby; the National Earthquake Bureau reported two major blasts before midnight, the first with an equivalent of three tonnes of TNT and the second with the equivalent of 21 tonnes.

At the time of the explosions the ground shook fiercely, shaking nearby buildings; many people were injured from shattering windows.  At the luxury Fifth Avenue apartment complex about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the explosion site, the road was strewn with broken glass and pieces of charred metal thrown from explosion; the building’s exterior was also scorched.

State broadcaster CCTV said six battalions of firefighters had brought the ensuing fire under control, although last reports said it was still burning 36 hours after the explosions.

Tianjin Port remains partially open because the explosion was contained in just one section, but movement in and out of the port has been slowed down by the explosion.

Port operations and shipment of the mining company BHP Billiton have been disrupted, while the blasts have injured some workers of carmaker Toyota and agricultural machinery maker John Deere.

Toyota announced that it was halting production at its nearby factories until 19 August, while John Deere announced that it was suspending work indefinitely.

Police confirmed that sodium cyanide, a highly toxic chemical, was found near the site of the blasts causing Chinese authorities to order the evacuation of residents within a 3km radius of the site.

A DP World spokesperson confirmed that the Dubai-based terminal operator’s facilities at Tianjin Orient Container Terminal (TOCT), which is 15 km from the site of the warehouse explosion, are safe and operational.

However, she added: “Two DP World employees living near the Tianjin explosion suffered minor injuries and have been taken to the Tanggu Chinese Medicine Hospital where they were treated and discharged. The houses of 18 other employees were damaged by the explosions and affected families have been transferred to relatives’ houses within Tianjin.”

A PSA spokesperson said: “PSA’s JV terminals in Tianjin port remain fully operational. Although our terminals are not sited within the immediate vicinity of the blast site, we have been taking extra precautions with regards to operations and staff on the ground, working closely with our partners, the Tianjin Port Group and the relevant government authorities”.

PSA has stakes in Tianjin Port Alliance International Container Terminal (TACT) and the port’s largest terminal, Tianjin Port Pacific International Container Terminal (TPCT).

An APM Terminals spokesperson confirmed that operations at TACT, 5 km away from the blast-site, was “unaffected”.

Tianjin achieved tenth position on CM’s World Top Container Ports 2015, having handled more than 14m teu last year.