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Deadly explosions hit northern Chinese city of Tianjin

The magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating 3 tonnes of TNT, followed by a second blast equal to 21 tonnes.
The magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating 3 tonnes of TNT, followed by a second blast equal to 21 tonnes. Greg Baker, AFP

Two massive explosions tore through an industrial area of the northeastern Chinese port city of Tianjin late on Wednesday, killing as many as 50 people and injuring over 700.

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Authorities have also reportedly lost contact with 36 firefighters on the scene.

The force of the explosions shocked residents across much of the city of 15 million people, with some posting videos on the Internet that showed giant fireballs shooting into the sky and shockwaves buffeting apartment blocks and cars.

"The fireball was huge, maybe as much as 100 metres tall," said 27-year-old Huang Shiting, who lives close to the site.

"I heard the first explosion and everyone went outside, then there was a series of more explosions, windows shattered and a lot of people who were inside were hurt and came running out, bleeding," he told AFP.

The explosion was felt for several kilometres, even being picked up by a Japanese weather satellite. The magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating 3 tonnes of TNT, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said on its verified Weibo account, followed by a second blast equal to 21 tonnes.

Fires were still burning after dawn, with photographs on Chinese news sites showing what appeared to be several destroyed buildings as well as torched cars at a logistics base at Tianjin Port.

Paramedics rushed the wounded to the city's hospitals, many of them covered in blood.

Police have detained the head of the company involved, Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics, local authorities said. The company’s website said it was a government-approved firm specialising in handling “dangerous goods”. Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Panic across city

Firefighting efforts at China's warehouse explosion site have been suspended due to lack of clarity about the contents and amount of the "dangerous goods" in the warehouse, according to a local government statement on Thursday.

President Xi Jinping demanded that authorities quickly extinguish the fires and “make a full effort to rescue and treat the injured and ensure the safety of people and their property”, China Central Television (CCTV) said on its official microblog. The station said the blasts erupted at around 11:30pm local time (3:30pm GMT). The second blast came roughly 30 seconds after the first, state media said.

Video posted on YouTube from what appeared to be an apartment building some distance from the scene showed fire shooting into the night sky from the initial blast when the second, and much bigger, explosion went off, sending a huge fireball into the air.

Seconds later, shockwaves hit the apartment building. “Our building is shaking. Is this an atomic bomb?” asked a frenzied voice inside. In other amateur video, which appears to have been shot closer to the scene, people scream from inside a car as the shockwave hits from the second blast, rocking their vehicle.

Tianjin is home to around 15 million people, making it one of the biggest cities in China. The port, one of the busiest in China, was operating normally, a port official said.

Industrial accidents are not uncommon in China following three decades of breakneck economic growth. A blast at an auto parts factory in eastern China killed 75 people a year ago when a room filled with metal dust exploded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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