Last night, a horrific blast rocked the world’s tenth largest port in the Chinese city of Tianjin just 90-minutes from Beijing. The reported death toll stands at 50 and 700 have been injured according to the state media.
The blast occurred at Ruihai International Logistics, a company that stores hazardous cargo. It is believed that the chemicals may include sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate and calcium carbide. The company was also licensed to handle highly combustible compressed and liquefied natural gas.
Fires at the site continue to produce a steady cloud of smoke Thursday after Tianjin officials decided to let the blazes burn out on their own. Residents of the Binhai district of the city said they were unsure whether it was safe to breathe the air, and many people continue to wear disposable face masks.
In a statement, Greenpeace warned that many of the substances posed threats to human health. It said that sodium cyanide, a compound used in mining, is especially toxic, while toluene diisocyanate, used in the making of polyurethane products, is a known carcinogen and highly explosive. With rain forecast for Friday, Greenpeace warned about the danger of airborne pollutants seeping into local groundwater supplies.
This explosion occurred on the day that China rocked the world by devaluating its currency for the second day in a row. The news initially caused the Dow Jones to drop over 200 points Wednesday, but it recovered later in the day.
Today, China expert and Forbes contributor Gordon Chang told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart that in China, many people view the explosion as a bad omen. The name Tianjin means “the richness of heaven” and many believe that if the gods do this to Tianjin, they’ll do it to China. For this reason, Chang said, the government is trying hard to censor news about the explosion. Many are saying this is the end of communism, he added.
Chang pointed out that the world would not have known about this blast were it not for Chinese micro bloggers. He said the Chinese government immediately took down their posts. Then the official government news agency put out its version of the story.
“We can be sure that the numbers of casualties are understated,” Chang said, “because of the magnitude of what happened there are more casualties than what Beijing is willing to admit to.” He said this is coming at a very bad time in China. Tthe devaluation of the currency is spooking the people and the economy is in very bad shape, much worse than the government says it is. He said all these things together could change the psychology in China whether one believes in omens or not.
Andrew Jacobs reported in the NY Times that Ruihai’s website was inaccessible as was the website for the Tianjin Administration for Industry and Commerce, the agency that collects information about companies. In a social media post, the agency said the blast had forced it to close down temporarily.
As the extent of the disaster became apparent on Thursday, government officials moved quickly to control the flow of information. Comments on social media criticizing the government were promptly deleted, and for much of the day, the city’s main news channel played Korean soap operas, prompting ridicule on social media.
The Tianjin Internet Police issued a warning that those who spread rumors about the accident would be “severely dealt with according to the law.”
It appears that officials in Tianjin were aware of the risks, according to the Times. In recent weeks, officials with the city’s Administration of Work Safety met with a number of local chemical companies and asked them to ensure the safety of the substances on their premises, citing summer weather that included “extreme heat, high humidity and heavy rain,” according to an Aug. 6 posting on the agency’s website. Nevertheless, nothing was done.
The Chinese news agency reported in a news conference today that unspecified officials of the company have been detained. No other information was released.
Unfortunately for the Chinese government, an explosion of this size is impossible to hide. The people are restless due to the bad economy, and that is why China devalued their currency—to boost the economy. The question arises, is it too little too late?