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News Wrap: Death toll rises from China industrial blasts

In our news wrap Thursday, the death toll from explosions at port facilities in Tianjin, China, rose to 50 and is still expected to increase. Also, China dismissed talk that it might allow a 10 percent currency decline after the yuan fell again for a third day.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The death toll from stunning explosions in Northeastern China rose to 50 today, and was expected to go higher. The blasts erupted last night in Tianjin at port facilities packed with petrochemicals.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has this report.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    This was the warehouse district of Tianjin, one of China's biggest ports, in a country proud of being the manufacturing and export hub of the world.

    Today, Tianjin was exporting over 700 injured people to local hospitals. And the fires raging here are feared to be so toxic that firefighters withdrew this afternoon to let them burn. The first explosion happened just before midnight. One eyewitness said it sounded like the start of a war. The second was several times bigger.

    Seismic monitors registered the detonation as the equivalent of a 2.9 earthquake, this industrial disaster in a city of 15 million people, some of them living less than a mile away. China often tries to stifle bad news, but how to stifle this, when it's filmed on a mobile phone and posted online, this just a hundred miles from Beijing itself?

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    This is going to make the news tomorrow. The building is shaking. Oh, my God. It's like an atomic bomb.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    I'm a security guard and I work at a factory. I was working at the security booth and suddenly I heard the explosion. And I laid down immediately, but still got injured. The security booth was destroyed completely.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    China's president has demanded that any culprit be severely handled, while the warehouse manager has been detained. Troops trained to deal with chemical disasters have now been sent.

    ZHAN YONG, Head of Binhai New District, Tianjin (through interpreter): We are facing a very complicated situation. And we have a very short time to handle this accident. We want the prevent further loss. Before we are absolutely clear about materials in the explosion site, we must be very prudent and cautious, so we asked the military for their help.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    Ten hospitals are treating the injured; 18 firefighters are reported missing. Some 6,000 people have been evacuated.

    These extraordinary pictures suggest transparency, rather than cover-up, shipping containers crumpled like used drinks cartons, the skeletons of hundreds of brand-new cars in this, the 10th biggest port in the world. But the August heat is intense here. And if Chinese authorities fail to provide answers, local anger could soon boil over.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Chinese authorities did partially limit social media posts about the explosions. And they warned there would be zero tolerance for creating rumors.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The other story today out of China was their move to ease fears that the value of their currency could drop even more. The yuan fell again on Thursday, for a total drop so far this week of almost 3 percent, roiling world financial markets.

    But China's Central Bank dismissed talk that it might allow a 10 percent decline. A top official said — quote — "This is sheer nonsense. It is totally unfounded."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Greek Parliament moved tonight to push a formal bailout agreement through Parliament. Lawmakers spent hours debating a rescue package worth about $93 billion. It mandates unpopular new austerity measures, including more spending cuts and tax hikes. The ruling Syriza Party has faced a rebellion in its ranks, and it's relying on opposition support to approve the deal.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Iraq today strongly criticized General Ray Odierno, the retiring chief of the U.S. Army, for suggesting the country may have to be divided. A spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the general's comment — quote — "irresponsible." Odierno was asked about the Iraqi situation yesterday at his final Pentagon news conference.

    GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army: I think there might be some alternative solutions that might have to come into this some time in the future, where Iraq might not look like it did in the past. It might be the only solution, but I'm not ready to say that yet.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Separate chunks of Iraq are already controlled by Islamic State militants, by Kurds and by Shiites. And, today, an Islamic State bombing in Baghdad killed dozens of people. We will have a full report after the news summary.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Back in this country, the Supreme Court of Connecticut has ordered an end to executions. That decision today spared the lives of the 11 inmates still on the state's death row. They were sentenced in advance of a 2012 law that abolished capital punishment. The court ruled 4-3 that carrying out those executions now would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    U.S. customs officials returned a stolen painting by Picasso to French hands today, more than a decade after it was taken in Paris. The work, known in English as "The Hairdresser," is valued at $15 million. Customs agents recovered it in December, and their director handed it over today in a ceremony at the French Embassy in Washington.

    SARAH SALDANA, Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement : While we recognize that there is certainly a value that's been attached to this particular painting, we take pride in the fact that art like this is truly priceless. And we're so glad that it's going to be shown to the world again.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The painting was found in a package shipped from Belgium to New Jersey. The shipping label described it as a handicraft worth $37. So far, no one's been arrested.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Sightings of drones by airline pilots and others have more than doubled in the last year. The Federal Aviation Administration says it's received more than 650 reports this year. Some of the drones were spotted as high as 10,000 feet. Just yesterday, a medevac helicopter, with a patient on board, had to dodge a drone near Fresno, California.

    JOHN MCGREW, Flight paramedic: I think people just need to remember that we're up in the air as well. It's not a toy that they're flying around. It's up in our space, and if it were to contact an aircraft, it would create a pretty catastrophic situation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Also this week, four commercial flights spotted drones nearby as they came in to land at Newark-Liberty International airport in New Jersey.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Wall Street spent the day looking for direction, but didn't find much. The Dow Jones industrial average gained five points to close near 17410, while the Nasdaq fell about 11 points, and the S&P 500 slipped two.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    After 45 years, the PBS mainstay "Sesame Street" is getting a new partner, HBO. The producers of the iconic children's program announced the five-year deal today. It calls for new episodes to air first on HBO and then nine months later on PBS stations.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And it's confirmed: President Warren G. Harding did, indeed, have a daughter out of wedlock. The New York Times reports DNA testing now proves the 29th president fathered a child by a mistress, Nan Britton, before he was elected. Harding died in 1923. The daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, died in 2005.

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