Thursday, 13 August 2015

Tianjin Blast Sparks Many Questions

What was left on one area of the warehouse after battling the blaze in Tianjin
One wonders whose heads will roll following the massive explosions in a Tianjin warehouse that has killed at least 50 people and injured more than 500.

There are media reports an official environmental evaluation report on dangerous goods warehouses operated by Tianjin Ruihai Logistics, concluded that a fire or blast would not have a considerable impact on the neighbouring area.

The 42,000 square metre warehouse was a temporary holding area for dangerous goods before being imported or exported.

One of the explosions that rocked Tianjin Wednesday night
The report named some chemicals, like sodium cyanide acetylene, potassium nitrate, Toulene 2,4-diisocyanate (TDI) and condensed natural gas were transported stored at the warehouse, while it said many precautions were taken.

"Multiple surveillance cameras, a control centre for fire alarm and video surveillance are installed in the warehouse. A firefighting squad and traffic police square are stationed at the south of the warehouses," the report said.

It concluded "firefighters can arrive at the scene in time in case of fire or explosion and take fire extinguishing measures to contain release of toxic materials".

However, it seems the firefighters had no idea what they were battling in the blaze -- about 1,000 were deployed, but at least 12 died, 36 missing, and the rest had to pull out because they were unsure of what dangerous goods were inside and how much was stored.

Apparently 8,000 troops trained in anti-chemical warfare and 1,500 police also joined in the effort, but there were no other details on how they helped contain the fire and deal with the after effects.

Firefighters pulled out, unsure of what they were dealing with
The report seems to have been written in an ideal situation without having conducted any kind of practice emergency drills, or any kind of briefing or inspection by police and fire inspectors of the warehouse; it seems like a document that was published to tick off the right boxes to have it cleared at the government level.

There was also apparently a public consultation held in May 2013, allaying concerns, if residents had any, that all precautions were taken.

Workers at the warehouse who survived or escaped the blast told the media that they did not have proper training to handle dangerous goods.

Meanwhile there are at least three residential areas comprising 5,000 households that are located within 5km from the warehouse. A luxury development only 2km away was being built and so there were no casualties there, but construction workers now have to rebuild the project again, as all the windows were blown out and some surfaces scorched.

Some residents interviewed didn't know about the public consultation, or weren't aware of what dangerous goods were being stored there.

Rows of vehicles in the warehouse burned out from the blast
While Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on firefighters to contain the blaze and for rescuers and hospital staff to save as many people as possible, how seriously will the government take this incident and really investigate what happened? Will they really find out how residential areas could be built so close to a dangerous spot or vice versa, that a warehouse storing dangerous goods would be allowed to be built so close to a residential area?

Was this warehouse licensed to store and transport dangerous goods? And who endorsed the so-called environmental evaluation report?

There are too many questions that need to be answered. While this tragedy will bring the country together in grief, anger will be simmering below the surface, demanding answers and compensation.

Surely this tragedy will lead to a setback to Xi's legacy plan of amalgamating Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei together into a supercity called "Jing-Jin-Ji"...


  1. We hear about China becoming/being a superpower and there we hear about disastrous events like this. How can a major global power seem to operate in a way in which it not only often seems like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing (and vice versa) but that it's being prevented from seeing and/or hearing what's really happening in its world?

    1. Hi YTSL -- it's called propaganda and denial.