North China suffers chain of chemical explosions, leaving dead, many wounded

By Xinyu Zong || Contributing Writer

On Wednesday, August 12, two massive explosions occurred just seconds apart from each other at a container storage station in Tianjin, North China. The chemical explosions in Tianjin, North China, took 159 lives, including those of 95 firefighters.

The container station was located at the Port of Tianjin in the Binhai New Area, less than one mile away from several neighborhoods and a light rail terminal, Yahoo! news reported. Initial explosions continued to burn despite the effort of more than a thousand firefighters, with repeated secondary explosions throughout the weekend, which began to naturally die down after Saturday, August 15.

The cause of this tragic incident is still under investigation, but the initial reports indicated it to be an industrial accident, according to BBC. Fire broke out at 10:50 p.m. (GMT). The first responders were unaware of the danger of chemical storage on site, and thus used water to douse the fire without any inspection beforehand. This set off a chain of violent chemical reactions as the initial fire and water and caused two sequential blasts at 11:30 p.m.

An official told CCTV the storage contained approximately 3,000 tons of 40 kinds of hazardous chemicals, including 800 tons of ammonium nitrate and 500 tons of potassium nitrate.

The second explosion caused most of the damages and injuries, with shockwaves reaching several miles away. The second explosion has been estimated to be equivalent to 21 tons of TNT, resulting in fireballs and mushroom clouds reaching as high as hundreds of meters, according to CCTV America.

Many media outlets including Xinhua News raised the question of the rationality of Tianjin’s urban planning. According to the regulations set up by the State Administration of Work Safety, medium- to large-sized hazardous chemical storage stations should be at least one kilometer (0.6 miles) away from surrounding public buildings, roads, railways, and ports.

However, around 5,600 residents were known to be living within one km of the plant, the nearest neighborhood being only 600 meter away. Damages outside of the one kilometer perimeter are also disastrous. A large number of buildings endured extensive destruction and Japan News reported more than 8,000 new cars from Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, Renault, and Toyota were burned at several locations near the blast. Donghai Road Station was closed after the blast due to the destruction, along with the rest of Line 9 of Tianjin Metro, according to Xinhua News.

As of September 2, the death toll of 2015 Tianjin Explosions had reached 159 people, along with 14 missing, and 797 non-fatal injuries, as reported by People’s Daily. Among the 159 deaths, 95 were firefighters. Over a thousand firefighters were on scene; many of them came from nearby cities and the Provincial Fire Department. During an interview with Xinhua, Du, Vice Director General and Chief Engineer of the Public Security Bureau’s Fire Department referred to 2015 Tianjin Explosions as the heaviest casualty loss incident since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Xinyu Zong is a contributing writer. Her email is xzong@fandm.edu.

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