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Fears for missing firefighters as China toll climbs
August 16, 2015, 1:43 pm

Scores of Chinese firefighters are still missing following the massive explosions that hit an industrial area in Tianjin, officials have said. At an official press conference on Sunday, authorities announced that the death toll had risen to 112, but added that 95 people had been confirmed missing - including 85 firefighters.

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, reporting from Tianjin, a port city in the country's northeast, said it was now possible that the death toll will climb past 200, "making it one of China's worst industrial accidents".

Authorities evacuated residents living near the industrial site on Saturday as fears spread that toxic substances were spreading. Brown said that officials have still not been able to identify the cause of the explosion, but the disaster is believed to have started at a warehouse of shipping containers with hazardous materials.

"What the people in this city want is reliable information," he said. Officials have listed a litany of chemicals that may have been at the hazardous goods storage facility when the explosions happened, but have been unable to say precisely which ones were present.

Potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate are believed to have been there.

Chinese reports said 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were at the site, and officials called in experts from producers of the material to help handle it. Hydrogen peroxide, which neutralises it, has been used.

The explosions occurred after firefighters were called to a blaze at a hazardous chemicals storage facility on Wednesday night in an industrial zone of Tianjin, one of China's biggest cities with a population of 15 million people.

Then, two massive explosions took place about 11:30pm (15:30 GMT), sending a giant fireball sweeping across the area.

Residents likened the shockwaves to an earthquake, and aerial footage of the blast zone shows scenes of monumental devastation, with buildings burned out, shipping containers crushed and tumbled like piles of children's blocks, and fields of burned-out vehicles.

About 10,000 new imported cars near the blast site were destroyed, according to Chinese media reports, and even buildings three kilometres (1.9 miles) away had their windows shattered.

Tianjin residents, relatives of the victims and online commentators have criticised local authorities for a lack of transparency, including at one point trying to storm a news conference on Saturday.

On Sunday, sobbing men confronted security at the hotel where officials have been briefing journalists, with one shouting "Police, I will kill someone!" in what appeared to be a desperate bid to draw attention before being comforted by a policeman, the news agency reported.

Another lashed out at reporters attempting to photograph him, saying: "Don't take my photo, it is useless. The news has no truth!"

The government has moved to limit criticism of the handling of the aftermath, with a total of 50 websites having been punished for "creating panic by publishing unverified information or letting users spread groundless rumours", according to the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Critical posts on social media have also been blocked, and more than 360 social media accounts have been suspended or closed down.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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