Around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a massive explosion shook the Chinese port city of Tianjin — home to 15 million people — killing at least 50 people, including 12 firefighters. Chinese state media said about 700 people are injured, with 71 in critical condition. Dozens are unaccounted for, and the death toll is expected to rise. Smoke clogged the air for more than 16 hours.
Many of the injuries were caused by flying glass from the thousands of windows that broke en masse after the blast.
“I thought it was an earthquake … The cloud was as high as a 20-floor building,” one resident told NBC News. “It was like what we were told a nuclear bomb would be like,” a truck driver told the Associated Press. “I’ve never even thought I’d see such a thing. It was terrifying, but also beautiful.” The driver stayed in his truck most of the night in case it was unsafe to go outside.
Hundreds of people traveled to hospitals by foot and car, some covered in blood, many people screaming. Others waited in line to donate blood.
“Dangerous goods” being stored in a warehouse blew up after catching on fire, according to reports. A series of secondary explosions followed the initial blast, shattering windows and fish tanks and sending out rippling aftershocks that could be felt miles away. According to the BBC, the “force of the first explosion was equivalent to three tons of TNT, the second was 21 tons.” Around 1,000 firefighters were working down in the warehouse district on Thursday morning, fighting leftover flames and trying to prevent any more secondary explosions from happening. “Armed troops and elite military units trained to handle nuclear, biological and chemical disasters” have also been dispatched to Tianjin, according to The Guardian.
The warehouse is owned by Ruihai International Logistics, a four-year-old company licensed to handle hazardous and combustible goods. Ruhai’s website is down, and the company’s phone has been busy for hours, according to the New York Times. The state-controlled news agency Xinhua said the company’s executives have been detained for questioning. Chinese president Xi Jinping said there will be severe punishments for anyone found to have caused the blast.
It is hard to find much news on the blast and its aftermath in China; the Times notes that the main news channel played soap operas most of the day Wednesday, and comments critical of the government’s response — and the fact that nothing was done to move hazardous materials to less populated areas despite recent protests — posted online have disappeared. Environmental groups have warned that some of the materials being stored in the warehouse were toxic, and the rain forecast for tomorrow might cause hazardous chemicals to seep into the soil. The Beijing News reported that 700 tons of the poison sodium cyanide may have been stored at the warehouse in question.
Government officials told Beijing and Tianjin residents worried about pollution that there was little to fear, as most of the toxic pollutants would simply float into the sea — where it will cause problems for animals and humans farther away — and that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for the capital to see much damage.
“The Chinese here are split between evacuating or staying, on account of the air,” Drew Chovanc, an English teacher from Florida, told NBC News. “My girlfriend is begging for us to go downtown or to Beijing.”
Many of the nonexplosive goods being stored near the blast site were obliterated. Per NBC, 2,700 Volkswagens, 1,500 Renaults, and 4,000 Hyundai and Kia vehicles were destroyed. Further away from the explosion, parking lots are filled with burned, useless cars.
Videos of the terrifyingly large fireball are all over social media; most feature the person holding the recording device being knocked over by the force of the blast.
This post has been updated throughout.