Sun, Aug 16, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Chemical fears see Tianjin evacuated

BLAZE INTENSIFIES:As fires continued to burn in the aftermath of Thursday’s blast, residents have been evacuated amid concerns toxic chemicals are effecting air quality

AFP, TIANJIN, China

People carry their luggage as they are evacuated from Tianjin, China, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Residents surrounding the site of giant explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin were evacuated yesterday over fears of toxic contamination, the official Xinhua news agency said, as the death toll rose to 85.

Armed police were carrying out the evacuation after highly poisonous sodium cyanide was found at the site, the Beijing News said, as the blaze intensified dramatically, with several blasts reportedly heard.

“Out of consideration for toxic substances spreading, the people nearby have been asked to evacuate,” Xinhua said.

Officials earlier said that specialists from sodium cyanide producers were being sent in to the hazardous goods storage facility where giant explosions days earlier sent a huge fireball soaring into the sky and left a vast radius of destruction.

Authorities have struggled to control the resulting days-long blaze and identify the substances at the scene, sparking fears among locals.

Furious residents and victims’ relatives railed against officials outside a news conference for keeping them in the dark as criticism over a lack of transparency mounted.

There were 21 firefighters among the dead, authorities said and 721 people had been hospitalized, 25 of whom were in critical condition.

Officials said they were unable to identify precisely what chemicals were at the site.

At the news conference, Tianjin work safety official Gao Huaiyou (高懷友) listed a host of possible substances, adding that recent large exports that passed through the site had included sodium bisulfide, magnesium, sodium, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and sodium cyanide, among others.

“We believe there could still be a lot stored at the terminal areas,” he said.

Personnel from sodium cyanide producers had been called in “because they are experts on the chemical’s nature and the ways to deal with it,” he added.

A sewage pipe where the chemical had reportedly been detected had been sealed off, he said.

More than 200 nuclear and biochemical experts from the Chinese military were deployed to Tianjin — which has a population of 15 million — on Thursday. Authorities have repeatedly said air quality generally met requirements, although levels of some pollutants exceeded regulations.

Despite official reassurances, residents have expressed skepticism and some police have been seen in the city wearing full-face gas masks.

Residents and relatives of the dead and missing were prevented from entering the briefing and could be heard shouting outside.

“Nobody has told us anything, we’re in the dark, there is no news at all,” said one woman, as she was dragged away by security personnel.

China has a dismal industrial safety record and authorities have only released limited information about the accident, a criticism often leveled at Chinese officials in the aftermath of disasters.

It has also raised questions over whether firefighters responding to an initial blaze at the warehouse could have contributed to the detonations by spraying water over substances that react explosively to it.

One senior official insisted firefighters had followed the proper procedures, but noted that they were unaware of the precise chemicals present when they arrived.

“It is not clear whether a chemical reaction occurred,” Tianjin’s public security bureau firefighting department head Lei Jinde (雷進德) said.

“We knew there was calcium carbide, but we don’t know whether the calcium carbide exploded and caught fire,” he said in an interview published by Xinhua.

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