4 new fires in Tianjin as China reveals widespread safety lapses

4 new fires in Tianjin as China reveals widespread safety lapses

August 21, 2015 9:08 AM (UTC+8)

 

Fire-fighters assisted by soldiers and police officers raced to put out four new fires which broke out Friday  in the area damaged by last week’s explosions in Tianjin.

Rescue workers spray hydrogen peroxide over the debris at the blast site at Tianjin warehouse
Rescuers spray hydrogen peroxide over the debris at the blast site at Tianjin warehouse Thursday

One of the fires began in what the emergency workers called the “tomb of cars,” the logistics park in which at least 3,000 automobiles were torched in the two blasts that occurred in a warehouse in the eastern Chinese port city last Wednesday.

They suspect the blaze may have been caused by combustible material in the fuel tanks of the cars.

The other three fires are in the central blast zone.

New fires are happening at the blast site, which is scattered with smouldering chemicals and flammable substances. More than 4,460 soldiers and armed police officers have been called in to collect thousands of tons of dangerous chemicals and clean the area damaged by the blasts, said Liao Keduo, top military commander of the search and clean-up operation.

State authorities have confirmed that more than 700 tonnes of the deadly chemical sodium cyanide were stored at the Tianjin warehouse that blew up.

Nationwide inspections of facilities handling dangerous chemicals and explosives were ordered by China’s State Council after the blasts last week.

More than 100 chemical firms across seven provinces have been told to suspend operations or shut down due to safety violations in the recent days, announcements by regional governments show.

That includes 19 companies in Hubei province, 26 firms in Anqing city in the southeastern province of Anhui, two in the capital, Beijing, and 39 in Zhejiang province.

In Beijing alone, an inspection of 124 sites that stored dangerous chemicals found hazards at 85 firms, Xinhua said late on Thursday, citing Beijing’s work-safety bureau.

Thousands of dead fish

The State Council said in a statement Thursday that advanced equipment and the best expertise must be used to prevent major environmental incidents in the future.

Pictures taken by Reuters on Thursday showed workers scooping thousands of dead fish out of the Haihe River near Tianjin, a day after authorities had declared the city’s drinking water was safe.

Tianjin officials said the dead fish were caused by regular seasonal low oxygen levels in the water and were not related to the blasts.

Authorities, however, have also warned that cyanide levels in waters around Tianjin port, the world’s 10th-busiest and the gateway to China’s industrial north, had risen to as much as 277 times acceptable levels.

The blasts at Tianjin also prompted a nationwide review of China’s industrial-safety record, which has struggled to keep pace with the breakneck speed of China’s economic growth.

China has struggled in recent years with incidents ranging from mining disasters to factory fires, and President Xi Jinping has vowed that authorities should learn the lessons paid for with blood.

Executives of Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, the firm whose warehouse exploded, have said they used ‘connections’ to obtain safety approvals. The site was found to be too close to nearby homes.

Inspectors carrying out the safety reviews in Beijing found that security personnel at a branch of Sinopec Corp, Asia’s largest refiner, were unfamiliar with how to handle an oil tank fire, Xinhua said. Employees were also found smoking in dormitories near the facility, it said.

“Companies that fail our inspections will be ordered to suspend operations, and their warehouses will be put under 24-hour surveillance,” Xinhua quoted Qian Shan, vice-head of the Beijing work safety bureau, as saying.

Despite the infractions found at the Sinopec branch, Xinhua did not say that the facility would be shut.

Beijing has also suspended operations at firms that make or deal in highly toxic chemicals and explosives from Aug 17 to Sept 6 in preparation for a military parade and athletics event, Xinhua said.

On Wednesday, three oil and gas firms close to residences were told by authorities in the cities of Hangzhou and Shenzhen to halt operations.

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