Sat, Aug 15, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Chinese authorities defensive after Tianjin blasts

RESCUE:One firefighter was pulled from the rubble yesterday and was hospitalized with face, chest and feet injuries, but 13 more are still missing

Reuters, TIANJIN, China

Volunteers yesterday stand behind boards containing information on missing people at a temporary shelter in Tianjin, China, in the wake of massive explosions and fires that rocked the city on Wednesday night.

Photo: EPA

China yesterday defended firefighters who initially hosed water on a blaze in a warehouse storing volatile chemicals, a response foreign experts said could have contributed to two huge blasts that killed 54 people.

More than a dozen firefighters were among those killed by the explosions at the port in Tianjin on Wednesday night, state media said.

About 700 people were injured, 71 of them seriously, yet another accident in a nation all too familiar with industrial disasters.

Columns of smoke from fires still burning yesterday rose from the site amid crumpled shipping containers, thousands of torched cars and burned-out shells of port buildings.

Rescuers pulled one survivor from the wreckage before dawn, a city official told reporters, who was later identified as a firefighter.

He is being treated for face, chest and feet injured, the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported

The warehouse, designed to house dangerous and toxic chemicals, was storing mainly ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium carbide at the time, according to police.

Xinhua news agency has said several containers in the warehouse caught fire before the explosions.

China’s State Council said a nationwide inspection of dangerous chemicals and explosives would be launched in response to the disaster, along with a crackdown on illegal activities to strengthen industry safety.

“The disastrous explosions at the ... hazardous materials warehouse at the Tianjin port caused huge loss of life and injuries, economic damages and social impact,” the council’s Work Safety Commission said on its Web site.

“The lessons are extremely profound,” it said.

Chemical safety experts said calcium carbide reacts with water to create acetylene, a highly explosive gas. An explosion could be caused if fire fighters sprayed the calcium carbide with water, they said.

Lei Jinde (雷進德), the deputy propaganda department head of China’s fire department, a part of the Ministry of Public Security, told state-backed news Web site ThePaper.cn that the first group of fire fighters on the scene had used water.

“We knew there was calcium carbide inside but we didn’t know whether it had already exploded,” he said.

“At that point no one knew, it wasn’t that the fire fighters were stupid,” Lei said.

It was a large warehouse and they did not know the exact location of the calcium carbide, he said.

CCTV reported that another four firefighters were confirmed dead and 13 were still missing. Xinhua said earlier that 66 firefighters were among the hundreds of people hospitalized.

David Leggett, a chemical safety expert based in California, said the acetylene explosion could have detonated the ammonium nitrate.

The two blasts were about 30 seconds apart, the second much larger than the first.

“In my mind, the presence of ammonium nitrate makes it easier to explain the level of devastation,” he said.

Stuart Prescott, a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said water was recommended to extinguish the two nitrates, but a chemical powder was needed for calcium carbide.

Biochemical specialists said on state TV they were waiting for workers to clear a road into the site so they could begin assessing chemical contamination.

Several thousand residents were moved to 10 schools after apartment buildings and homes were damaged.

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