What has been described as a sea of fire has engulfed a Chinese port town. A series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015 have left at least 85 people dead and more than 720 people injured. The explosions originated in shipping containers carrying hazardous materials and quickly spread to other areas where toxic chemicals and gas were stored.
New explosions and fires continued into Saturday. Chinese authorities dispatched a military team of nuclear and chemical experts. They have evacuated the area within 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of the explosions to clean up chemical contamination of what is thought to be sodium cyanide and calcium carbide, toxic chemicals that becomes combustible on contact with water or damp air. It is likely that a wide range of other chemicals where also caught up in the inferno.
Here is a Guardian video that captures the onset of the chain reaction of explosions filmed by an eyewitness.
The Chinese government has still not explained exactly what caused the blast. There is what has been described as a metallic chemical smell in the air and it would appear that the toxicity risk remains as soldiers in the area are wearing gas masks.
People in the area are angry, particularly relatives of more than 20 firefighters who are reportedly missing. Some of these firefighters are as young as 17. Relatives of the missing firefighters recently stormed a government news conference to demand information. This is a source of real concern for the Chinese government who were already feeling threatened by popular movements demanding that the government clean up the environment and the air in particular.
Local officials are feeling the pressure from those who want to know why authorities allowed these hazardous materials to be stored so close to residential complexes and critical infrastructure. This is an apparent violation of Chinese law which states that hazmat storage should be at least 1,000 meters (yards) away from homes and public structures.
The death toll is expected to rise once the explosions and fires subside and workers begin to sift through the wreckage and so is the public outcry for better environmental safeguards.