UPDATE: Xinhua reports the death toll from the Tianjin disaster has risen to 104
New explosions and fire rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin today. One survivor has been rescued and authorities ordered evacuations within a 3-kilometre radius to clean up poisonous chemicals.
Angry relatives of missing firefighters stormed a government news conference to demand information on their loved ones more than two days after the disaster.
The death toll in Wednesday’s fire and blasts that devastated the city has climbed to 85, including 21 firefighters - making the disaster the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than six decades.
An unknown number of firefighters remain missing, and a total of 720 people have been injured in the rapid succession of explosions that began with a fire at shipping containers containing dangerous material at a warehouse.
Rescue workers today pulled out one survivor from a shipping container, CCTV said. His identity was not immediately known.
The government set up a no-go zone within 3 kilometres of the explosions to clean up spilled sodium cyanide. The poisonous chemical can catch fire if it gets wet, media reports say.
Burning flames were seen today, and explosions were reported by witnesses and state media.
Police and military personnel were at checkpoints on roads leading to the blast sites, and helicopters were seen hovering in the overcast sky. The air had a metallic chemical smell, and there was uneasiness over rain forecasts, although it was warm and windy.
Meanwhile, family members of missing firefighters disrupted the latest news conference, demanding to know if their loved ones were still alive.
Liu Huan, whose son, Liu Chuntao, has been missing since late Wednesday, said authorities had not notified him.. "Our son is a firefighter, and there was a team of firefighters who lost contact, we couldn't contact him."
State media reported that they still did not know how many of the first three squads of firefighters to respond to the disaster were dead or injured. A group from a local police station that also responded to the disaster were missing too.
No chance to escape
Tianjin Fire Department head Zhou Tian told media yesterday that the explosions happened just as reinforcements had arrived on the scene and were just getting to work.
"There was no chance to escape, and that's why the casualties were so severe," he said. "We’re now doing all we can to rescue the missing," Zhou said.
Members of the public are raising questions as to whether the fire commanders had made an awful mistake by sending the firemen into a highly dangerous area so early. They also questioned the decision to use water on the fire in a site that was known to store a variety of dangerous chemicals.
Local authorities are also being asked to explain why they allowed such dangerous material to be stored so close to places where people were living.