19-year-old firefighter rescued from Tianjin blaze

The firefighter was among the thousands rescued from the blasts that have rocked Tianjin, even as several thousand others remain fenced inside hazardous chemical debris

Tianjin: A young firefighter was rescued on Friday from the site of the powerful blasts at a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals, that have rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin, killing at least 55 people in one of China’s worst industrial disasters. Rescuers have been racing against time to find survivors amid chemical contamination fears.

The survivor, who was pulled out 32 hours after the twin explosions shattered the Ruihai warehouse, was identified as a 19-year-old firefighter named Zhou Ti who belongs to the Binhai New Area brigade of Tianjin’s fire department. More than 1,020 firefighters and 140 fire engines have been deployed to douse the fire, said Zhou Tian, head of Tianjin’s fire department at a press conference on Friday.

The enormous blasts, which occurred late Wednesday night, have killed 55 people, including 17 firefighters. A total of 701 were injured, of whom 70 remain in critical condition. A State Council investigation team was quoted by the state-run CCTV as saying that one survivor and the remains of five victims were found on Friday, raising the death toll to 55. Authorities have also detained the senior management of Ruihai International Logistics.

Thick smoke billowed from the blast site, 140 km from Beijing, as most of the fire had been doused. “When the blast occurred, several firefighters were working to put out the fire, and backup forces had just arrived. They were caught off guard, so the casualties are grave,” Zhou said. He did not specify the number of missing firemen. However, news organizations in Beijing have reported that 36 fire fighters are still missing. “Forces from all sides are searching for the missing firefighters,” Zhou said.

Volunteers and paramilitary soldiers wearing masks stand guard outside a temporary shelter after the explosions in Tianjin.
Volunteers and paramilitary soldiers wearing masks stand guard outside a temporary shelter after the explosions in Tianjin.

Meanwhile, the dangerous chemicals stored in the warehouses that exploded cannot be determined at the moment, Chinese officials said. Gao Huaiyou, deputy director of Tianjin’s work safety watchdog, cited major discrepancies between the accounts of company management and customs and damage to the company’s office as reasons they are unable to identify the chemicals. Cargo is stored in a warehouse for no more than 40 days before being transferred elsewhere, Gao told media.

Chinese authorities struggled to extinguish fires and identify dangerous chemicals at a devastated industrial site, leaving residents in fear of being cloaked in a toxic cloud. PICS/AFP
Chinese authorities struggled to extinguish fires and identify dangerous chemicals at a devastated industrial site, leaving residents in fear of being cloaked in a toxic cloud. PICS/AFP

The environmental organisation Greenpeace Beijing expressed concerns over the health risks posed by certain chemicals after the two massive explosions rocked the city home to 15 million people. Greenpeace said that the company also stored calcium carbide in addition to the chemicals reported.

Did you know?

The port of Tianjin is the largest port in Northern China and is the 10th largest port in the world. It handled 500 million tonnes of cargo in 2013.

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