Tianjin: Powerful explosions rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials and state media said.
Nine firefighters were killed, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported. It is not clear if the nine were counted among the 17 dead. The broadcaster reported that 283 people are in the hospital, and 32 people are in critical condition.
State media said the blasts happened in a warehouse storing “dangerous and chemical goods” in the port area of the city. The China Earthquake Networks Centre said the magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating three tons of TNT, while the second was the equivalent of 21 tonnes of the explosive.
Pictures and video on social media showed flames lighting up the sky, and buildings are said to have collapsed. Hospitals are reported to be overwhelmed with casualties.
President Xi Jinping has urged “all-out efforts” to rescue victims and contain the fire, Xinhua state news agency said.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said a shipment of explosives had detonated but this has not been confirmed. It has been reported that senior managers of Ruihai Logistics, which owned the warehouse where the explosion took place, are being questioned by authorities.
The first explosion happened at about 23:30 (15:30 GMT) on Wednesday which was followed by another, more powerful blast, seconds later. Shockwaves were felt several kilometres away.
It has been termed as an industrial accident.
It may be a long time before the cause of the explosion is known, it is said. Such is the scale of this disaster that for now, the authorities are simply struggling to achieve an accurate account of the numbers of dead and injured.
Further blasts were subsequently triggered nearby, Xinhua said.
CCTV said four firefighters were among the dead and that more than 400 people had been injured, at least 32 of them critically. Hours later, fires were still burning and 100 fire engines were at the scene, reported CCTV.
One witness, named only as Ms Yang, told local media she was out shopping when “suddenly from behind there was a big fireball and explosion”.
“At the time of the explosion the ground was shaking fiercely, nearby cars and buildings were shaking, glass from a few buildings broke and everyone started to run,” she said. “Now all the residents are gathered in the street”, she added.
Another witness, Canadian teacher Monica Andrews, told the media how she woke in panic after what she thought was an earthquake.
“I… looked out the window and the sky was red. I just watched a second explosion go off and [it was] just pure chaos, everyone leaving their apartment buildings thinking it’s an earthquake, cars trying to leave the complex. It was crazy,” she told BBC.
Several tower blocks near the port area are without power, CCTV added.