A massive explosion at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed seven people and sent a fireball ripping through the sky, state media reported Thursday.
The blast, which could be felt kilometres (miles) away, was triggered when a shipment of explosives detonated in the container 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 pm (1630 GMT).
Communist Party newspaper the People’s Daily said on its website seven people were killed in the explosion, and said in a separate Twitter post that more remained trapped by a huge fire.
Between 300 and 400 injured people had arrived at one hospital, the Beijing News reported, citing a worker at another saying there were too many new patients to count.
Two firefighters called to the scene were missing, Xinhua said.
China’s CCTV aired footage of plumes of flame raining down on the city, accompanied by a deafening bang.
Images obtained by AFP showed residents, some partially clothed, running for shelter on a street strewn with debris.
Photos posted on Chinese social network Weibo showed people standing and lying on the road 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.
Poor safety record
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 last year.
Tianjin, which lies about 140 kilometres (90 miles) 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 a foreign power –- starting with Britain and France in 1860.
Tianjin’s city centre 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. (AFP)