16 Aug 2015

Death toll in China blasts rises to 112

4:42 pm on 16 August 2015

The death toll from giant chemical explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin has reached 112, as residents in the area are evacuated over fears of cyanide contamination.

The scene of explosion Tianjin, north China, image taken 15 August.

Residents within three kilometres of the blast site were being moved away from the site. Photo: Zhang Cheng / XINHUA

A day-long fire intensified at the hazardous goods storage facility with a series of new explosions sending thick black smoke into the air on Saturday.

Officials have identified 24 of the dead, with 88 still to be identified.

According to rescue headquarters, 722 people had been hospitalised, 58 of whom are in a critical or serious condition. Twenty-one firefighters were among the dead, authorities say.

The evacuations came after an apparent change in wind direction, and as police confirmed the highly toxic chemical sodium cyanide was found near the site.

A man was found alive 50m from the blast core, Xinhua news agency said.

The man was able to talk when he was found and is now in hospital, according to the report.

The decision to relocate anyone within three kilometres of the site came despite official assurances the disaster had not released dangerous levels of toxic substances into the environment.

However, Xinhua said area residents had been evacuated "in fear of chemical pollutants in the air".

The Beijing News said armed police were carrying out the evacuation after sodium cyanide was found at the site.

At a barrier on the edge of the evacuation zone, masks were distributed to emergency personnel and police turned back anyone else, as at least 20 fire engines streamed in.

Officials said earlier that specialists from sodium cyanide producers were being sent in to the devastated industrial area.

Reports have said there could have been as much as 700 tonnes of the substance - exposure to which can be fatal - at the site.

Soldiers trained in anti-chemical warfare techniques were also deployed.

'Profound' safety lessons

Three days after the gigantic explosions sent a huge fireball into the sky and left a vast swathe of destruction, President Xi Jinping issued a statement warning authorities to learn the "extremely profound" safety lessons highlighted by the tragedy.

He said the blasts and a recent string of accidents had "exposed severe problems in the work safety sector".

Authorities have struggled to identify the substances present at the scene.

At a news conference, Tianjin work safety official Gao Huaiyou listed a host of possible substances that may have been at the site at the time of the explosions.

Furious victims' relatives railed against officials outside a news conference Saturday over the lack of transparency and information.

"Nobody has told us anything, we're in the dark, there is no news at all," screamed one middle-aged woman, as she was dragged away by security personnel.

The People's Daily said earlier that the facility's construction "clearly violated" safety rules, in particular those that require warehouses stocking dangerous materials to be at least 1km from surrounding public buildings and main roads.

More than 360 social media accounts have been shut down or suspended for "spreading rumours" about the blasts, Xinhua reported, citing the Cyberspace Administration of China.

- AFP / BBC

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