Chinese leader visits Tianjin as death toll rises to 112

Majority of the 95 people known to be still missing after disaster are firefighters

A damaged building is seen among debris at the site of Wednesday night’s explosions in Tianjin. Photograph: Reuters/China Daily

A damaged building is seen among debris at the site of Wednesday night’s explosions in Tianjin. Photograph: Reuters/China Daily

 

The death toll in the Tianjin explosions has risen to 112 with 95 people still missing, 85 of them firefighters, as premier Li Keqiang visited the site of Wednesday’s massive blasts in the northeastern port to view the rescue effort and offer condolences.

Mr Li visited firefighters, rescuers and the injured, the official Xinhua news agency reported, and “would also direct further rescue operations and treatment of the injured, as well as handling of the aftermath and production safety”.

The emergency relief effort is trying to secure the chemicals before it rains, as this could create further toxic gases or explosions, Shi Luze, head of the People’s Liberation Army’s Beijing Military Region, told reporters, referring to people outside the zone.

“I can responsibly say that there will be no secondary damage to the people,” Mr Shi said.

However, he confirmed that more than 100 tons of deadly sodium cyanide was stored at two separate sites.

DNA testing

The two explosions took place in a warehouse for hazardous chemicals at about 11.30pm local time on Wednesday. Firefighters bore the brunt of the blast as they were putting out a fire in the facility.

In all, about 6,300 people have been displaced by the blasts, which were felt for kilometres around the explosion site. A group of about 100 local residents protested near a hotel where the government was holding a news briefing, angry that the warehouse where the explosions had taken place was only 500 metres from a residential area, much nearer than permitted in Chinese regulations.

The fear now is of toxic contamination and wider environmental devastation, although officials said the site was safe, a claim backed up by Mr Li’s visit.

Chemical contamination

At the weekend, about 160 soldiers, specialists in chemical warfare, wearing protective clothing entered the core area of the blast to search for survivors.

China’s internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), shut 50 websites and hundreds of social media accounts for spreading rumours and publishing unverified information, accusing them of creating panic.

Among the rumours circulating, according to Xinhua, were that “the blasts killed at least 1,000 people”, “shopping malls in Tianjin were looted” and there had been “leadership change in the Tianjin government”.

The CAC said such rumours “caused negative influences, and said it would take a zero-tolerance attitude towards websites spreading rumours after major disasters.

Environmental group Greenpeace said tests around the blast site showed that water supplies were not severely contaminated with cyanide, but that they did not “disprove the presence of other hazardous chemicals in the water”. – (Additional reporting by Reuters)