Early today, Chinese officials halted operations at world’s tenth-largest container port for six hours over concerns about the spread of hazardous materials resulting from the back-to-back explosions that rippled earthquake-like shock waves several kilometers away.
According to multiple sources, Tianjin port was operating normally despite the devastation following the massive explosions last night. Even though traffic has resumed, oil tankers and ships carrying hazardous products have been barred from calling at the port. The Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration (TMSA) also confirmed that ships were allowed to leave but not to enter the Beigangchi area, which handles containers, crude and general cargo.
This gateway to northern China’s industrial belt saw a significant disruption of onshore operations and port shipping traffic after blasts reportedly occurred just before midnight in a warehouse that was storing dangerous goods. Government-owned Xinhua news agency identified Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics as the owner of the warehouse. The Chinese government approved this facility to store several dangerous and toxic chemicals including butanone, an explosive industrial solvent, sodium cyanide and compressed natural gas.
Reuters reported that vast areas of the port were devastated, with “crumpled shipping containers thrown around like match sticks”, hundreds of new cars torched and port buildings left as burnt-out shells, according to witnesses. More than 1,000 firefighters had been sent to control the blaze.
Residential areas felt the blasts several kilometers from the port. The impact rocked entire buildings, shattered windows and tore doors off their hinges. Home to 15 million people, Tianjin is a significant industrial port near Beijing and is also a main trading hub for metals and steel. Dazed residents and survivors spilled out on to the streets, flooding the hospitals while others sought temporary shelter. The death toll rose to 50 and approximately 700 people have been taken to hospital so far, of whom more than 70 are seriously injured.
The cause of the blasts is still unknown but China’s President Xi Jinping said in a statement carried by official Chinese media that those responsible should be “severely handled”. Chinese media outlet CCTV reported that at least one person at a “relevant company” had been detained, Reuters reported.