The official death toll from the inferno and massive explosions that devastated a warehouse and container port in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin has climbed to 112, with hundreds injured and almost 100 people still unaccounted for in the smoldering wreckage.
The increased death toll came on the heels of the revelation that the toxic chemical warehouse where the blaze started was only 2,000 feet from a high-rise residential complex despite regulations requiring hazardous materials facilities to be at least 3,200 feet away from such structures.
The disclosures added to accusations of criminal negligence on the part of the warehouse owner and suspicions of a cover-up by Chinese officials, who have sought to suppress information about the disaster and seemed unprepared for questions about the proximity of a hazardous materials storage facility to the nearby Vanke Port City residential development.
The development, along with everyone within a roughly two-mile radius of the site of the blaze, has been evacuated indefinitely due to concerns about toxic chemicals found near the disaster site, including roughly 700 tons of toxic sodium cyanide.
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) August 15, 2015
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that “Out of consideration for toxic substances spreading, the masses nearby have been asked to evacuate,” according to The Guardian.
The disaster began late Wednesday night when a small blaze at the Rui Hai warehouse quickly ballooned into massive explosions and an inferno that subsumed surrounding areas, injuring firefighters and nearby onlookers. According to Chinese media reports, shockwaves from the blasts — one of which reportedly had the explosive force of 21 tons of TNT — could be felt miles away.
The developers of Vanke Port City told The New York Times that they were unaware that the nearby warehouse contained hazardous materials, and that when they started construction on the development in 2010, they were told that the facility handled only “common goods.”
At least 21 of those killed by the blaze were firefighters, more than 1,000 of whom were dispatched the scene of the accident.