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New fires break out at China's Tianjin blast site

AFP archive picture | More than 100 people were killed in the initial blast on August 12

Chinese emergency workers raced to put out four new fires that had broken out close to the site where two massive explosions in a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals killed 114 people last week, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

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Xinhua said one of the "ignition points" came from within an automobile distribution area near the blast site and the other three were within the central blast area.

Tianjin's port, one of the world's busiest, was hit on August 12 by blasts that damaged a large industrial area. The death toll has risen to 114, with 95 people missing, and scores of businesses have been affected.

Authorities say almost 700 people remain hospitalised, while 30,000 people in and around the area have had their lives turned upside down by the disaster.

Two state-run Chinese news outlets, The Paper and the Southern Metropolis, reported that the warehouse was storing 700 tons of sodium cyanide – 70 times more than it should have been holding at one time. The warehouses also contained other hazardous and flammable chemicals.

The disaster has raised questions about whether dangerous chemicals were being stored too close to residential compounds, whether firefighters were put into harm's way in the initial response to the fire and whether the hazardous material – including compounds combustible on contact with water – was properly taken into account in the way the firefighters responded.

Local officials have been hard-pressed to explain why authorities permitted hazardous goods warehouses so close to residential complexes and critical infrastructure, clearly in violation of the Chinese rule that hazmat storage should be 1,000 meters (yards) away from homes and public structures.

In the wake of the disaster, more than 200 nuclear and biochemical experts from the Chinese military have been deployed to Tianjin.

The United Nations' top expert on human rights and hazardous materials, Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak, has criticised China for a "tragic" lack of transparency on the blasts and said more timely information could have "perhaps even prevented this disaster".

Tianjin residents have been staging protests almost daily since the deadly blast demanding more information and improved safety.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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