Tianjin: authorities suspend firefighting efforts

Chinese state media say a huge explosion at a container port in the northeastern city of Tianjin has injured at least 300 people

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A massive explosion at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin Wednesday sent a fireball ripping through the sky killing at least seven and injuring at least 300 people, local media reported. Thursday, Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off and the grim toll kept mounting.

Among the 50 confirmed dead are 12 firefighters, officials said Thursday. More than 500 people are hospitalized, 71 in critical condition, the state-run Xinhua news outlet reported. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the "dangerous goods" stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, Xinhua said. However, local media outelts said that a leak of sodium cyanide is complicating the relief's tasks.

The blast, which could be felt kilometers away, was triggered when a shipment of explosives detonated in the warehouse where it was being stored, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“An explosion ripped through a warehouse storing ‘dangerous goods’ in north China’s Tianjin City late Wednesday night,” Xinhua said, indicating the blast occurred around 11:30 p.m. local time (1630 GMT).

China’s CCTV aired footage of plumes of flame raining down on the city, accompanied by a deafening bang.

The Beijing News said that between 300 and 400 injured people had arrived at one hospital following the blast, and cited a worker at another saying there were too many new patients to count.

Local media said the fire caused by the blast was now under control, but that two firefighters called to the scene were missing.

Photos posted on Chinese social network Weibo showed people in the street apparently covered in blood, while others carried children covered in blankets to safety, though the veracity of the pictures could not immediately be confirmed.

The magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating three tons of TNT, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said on its verified Weibo account, while the second was the equivalent of detonating 21 tons of the explosive.

China has a dismal industrial safety record as some owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.

In July, 15 people were killed and more than a dozen injured when an illegal fireworks warehouse exploded in the northern Hebei province.

And at least 71 were killed in an explosion at a car parts factory in Kunshan, near Shanghai, in August 2014 last year.

Tianjin, which lies about 140 kilometers southeast of Beijing, is one of China’s biggest cities, with a population of nearly 15 million people according to 2013 figures.

A manufacturing centre and major port for northern China, it is closely linked to Beijing, with a high-speed train line cutting the travel time between them to only 30 minutes.

Like Shanghai, several countries were granted trading ‘concessions’ there during the 19th and early 20th centuries - settlements which were administered by the foreign power - starting with Britain and France in 1860.

The city center retains a legacy of historic colonial architecture, along with more recent skyscrapers.

It is one of only four cities in China - along with Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing - to have the status of a province.

With agencies