Two massive explosions rocked one of the world’s busiest port cities late Wednesday, killing at least 44 and sending more than 500 people to the hospital in northern China.
The blasts ripped through a warehouse facility in Tianjin, a city of 15 million people about 90 miles southeast of the Chinese capital of Beijing. Tianjin is in the process of being incorporated into the capital, where Chabad-Lubavitch maintains a presence and Jews and Israelis are often to be found as well due to the strong economic ties between China and the Jewish State.
It is not yet clear whether any Israeli nationals or any other Jews were near the site of the explosions at the time of the blast. Thus far, there have been no reports of missing Israeli citizens.
A state of emergency has been declared in the area in which the conflagration occurred, and at least one convention center located two kilometers from the blast site was badly damaged. Nearby apartment buildings also had their windows blown out, with hundreds of residents who had fled their homes and run into the streets later sent to the hospital with cuts from the broken glass.
Fires are still burning in the city and chemicals are floating in the air, with “a thick chemical smell felt in the throats of those who wonder what we are breathing,” said a CNN reporter. Most do not have masks. A CNN crew was knocked off the air by an angry mob of grieving family members Wednesday night while filming coverage at a local hospital, the same journalist reported hours later.
By Thursday morning, six battalions of firefighters had brought the blaze under control but did not extinguish the flames because they were not sure what kind of materials were stored in the warehouse, nor what had caused the fire, according to state-run CCTV.
At least 32 people were listed in critical condition from the explosions, which looked like a huge fireball soaring up into the night with fireworks exploding around it.
Israeli and other Jewish business people often travel to the area for manufacturing and kashrut purposes. It is not known whether any were near the port at the time of the explosion.
Several nearby buildings were destroyed and more than 1,000 new cars were charred in a nearby parking lot, according to Beijing News.
According to the National Earthquake Bureau, a second explosion triggered by the first carried the blast power equivalent to 21 tons of TNT.
The first blast occurred at 11:30 pm local time, and was equivalent to an explosion of three tons of TNT.
According to the company website for Ruihai Logistics, the company which owns the warehouse, the firm is approved to handle hazardous materials.
Nevertheless, Ruihai Logistics executives were arrested Wednesday night. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for “severe punishment” for those found to be responsible for the blast.