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"It's A Warzone": Images Of Devastation After Chinese Explosion; Toxic Chemicals Feared; Port Ops Disrupted

Daylight has arrived after the massive explosion in the Chinese port of Tianjin, and reveals nothing but devastation, or as the following tweet from Offbeat China describes it, "a warzone":

War zone

pic.twitter.com/CiySwCOFXl

— Offbeat China (@OffbeatChina)

According to the latest report from Xinhua, following the series of enormous explosions at an industrial area in Tianjin, at least 44 people were dead including 12 firefighters, with at least 520 injured, 66 of which in critical condition.

Album: Death toll reach 44 in

warehouse , 12 firefighters are among the dead pic.twitter.com/c6fPlTVN9o

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews)

According to an AFP reporter at the scene there was shattered glass up to three kilometres (two miles) from the blast site, after a shipment of explosives detonated in a warehouse, raining debris on the city and starting huge fires. As the following image shows, the heat was so intense it melted hub caps:

Tianjin explosion so infernal even wheel hub melt away http://t.co/a1EjD52rsE via Weibo pic.twitter.com/N6m4wwvyhx

— Patrick Zuo (@P_Zuo)

As we first showed yesterday, images showed a monumental blast soaring into the air, walls of flame enveloping buildings, ranks of burned-out cars, and shipping containers scattered like children's building blocks.

"The fireball was huge, maybe as much as 100 metres tall," said 27-year-old Huang Shiting, who lives close to the site. "I heard the first explosion and everyone went outside, then there was a series of more explosions, windows shattered and a lot of people who were inside were hurt and came running out, bleeding."

AFP further reports that paramedics stretchered the wounded into the city's hospitals as doctors bandaged up victims, many of them covered in blood after the impact of the explosion was felt for several kilometres, even being picked up by a Japanese weather satellite.

The magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating three tonnes of TNT, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said on its verified Weibo account, followed by a second blast equal to 21 tonnes.

Police took into custody the head of the company involved, Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics, local authorities said.

Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily said in a social media post that there were people trapped by the fire, but CCTV said efforts to put out the blaze had been suspended as it was not clear what dangerous items remained in the storage facility.

Specialised anti-chemical warfare troops were being sent to the site, the broadcaster added.

Which brings up the question of just what toxic pollutants are currently floating in the air: according to China Youth Daily, the possibility of there being cyanide at the accident site in Tianjin cannot be ruled out.

The newspaper quoted Doctor Wu Chunping's saying that the commodities stored at the explosive warehouse include hazardous chemicals such as sodium cyanide and toluene diisocyanate which can penetrate into human bodies through the skin and cause poisoning. Dr. Wu suggested preventive measures be taken. People should better wear gas masks so as not to expose their mouths and skin, he said.

Wu explained that a single hazardous chemical explosion can be relatively easily targeted, while the situation in the Tianjin accident on Wednesday is different and more difficult to handle because it involved many varieties of hazardous chemicals.

In addition, a variety of hazardous chemicals will interact after the explosion to form more stable and more complex compounds and produce other toxic substances that fill the air and are difficult to dispel. Therefore, the follow-up work must include physical protection, Dr. Wu said.

For obvious reasons the local authorities are keeping complete silence on the question of what toxins may have been released after the explosion:

still no info on the "dangerous goods" that triggered the explosion. Tianjin TV barely mentioned it in morning news. https://t.co/8oPbEOgbhc

— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6)

AP confirms as much

Police are keeping journalists and bystanders away with a cordon as many as a few kilometers (miles) from the site. On China's popular microblogging platform of Weibo, some users complain that their posts about the blasts have been deleted, and the number of searchable posts on the disaster fluctuated, in a sign that authorities are manipulating or placing limits on the number of posts.

But while the Chinese government may be content that the locals are expendable, and nobody needs to know about the true aftermath of the chemical plant explosion, where it gets serious is that a critical component to China's trade infrastructure will likely be disrupted - about 15 mills get their ore from Tianjin port - and inbound iron ore shipments will likely be put on hiatus for the time being thus impairing China's growth even further.

Putting the port's importance in context, Tianjin handled 25.08 million tons of iron ore imports in the first half of the year, or 5.5 percent of the country’s total, according to customs data. It also shipped out about 30 percent of the country’s steel exports in the period.

More from Bloomberg:

Iron ore shipments to China have been disrupted after deadly explosions at Tianjin’s port prompted authorities to restrict vessels calling at the facility that funnels commodities into the north and ships out steel.

 

“There was no damage to the iron ore discharging berths following the explosion,” Melbourne-based BHP Billiton Ltd. said in a statement on Thursday. “However, shipments and port operations have been disrupted as a result and we are working with our customers to minimize any potential impact.”

 

Mills in China are the world’s largest buyers of iron ore and the blasts, which rocked the city late on Wednesday night killing at least 17, will prompt shippers, traders and users to tap stockpiles and seek alternative routes. The explosions occurred at a hazardous-goods warehouse, according to a statement from the port. Iron ore prices dropped to the lowest level since at least 2009 last month as miners including BHP boosted output while demand growth stalled in China.

 

“It is unclear the extent of the disruption likely to be experienced to port activities,” Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. said in a statement. The company is Australia’s third-largest shipper. “We will be monitoring the situation.”

 

Ore with 62 percent content delivered to Qingdao, another Chinese port, rose 0.2 percent to $56.31 a dry metric ton on Wednesday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. The data are issued daily, with yesterday’s figure coming before the blasts were reported from Tianjin.

As usually happens, every human tragedy has a silver lining for someone, in this case for iron ore makers:

“This is a developing story, which could have a potentially positive short-term impact on pricing,” Clarksons Platou Securities Inc. said in a note. Material damage to the port could result in short-term disruptions to iron ore delivery, as well as lost or damaged stockpiles, it said.

Still, Stockpiles at the port’s Beijiang wharf were estimated at 1.4 million tons, while holdings at the Nanjiang wharf were 5.7 million tons. Also, other ports on China’s eastern coastline, especially those in Shandong and Hebei provinces, could accommodate the capacity that Tianjin’s not be able to handle, according to Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong.

So any disrpuption should be manageable, but at least the government will now have a handy "scapegoat" for any substantial GDP Q3 miss. 

Some more photos from the Tianjin devastation: