The death toll from a series of explosions at an industrial area in the Chinese port of Tianjin in northern China has risen to 44, authorities say.
More than 500 people were also injured – 66 of them in critical condition – in the explosions, state media reported on Thursday.
Those killed, according to the official Xinhua news outlet, included 12 firefighters, who were trying to battle the fires that were triggered by the explosions.
The blasts shook the northeastern region of China on Wednesday, unleashing a fireball that went up through the night sky.
Reporters at the scene saw shattered glasses up to three kilometers from the blast site. The blasts were apparently caused when a shipment of explosives detonated in a warehouse, raining debris on the city and starting huge fires.
But an investigation is reportedly ongoing to better clarify the cause of the incident.
Images showed a monumental blast, followed by walls of flame enveloping buildings, as well as ranks of burned-out cars, and shipping containers scattered like children’s building blocks.
“The fireball was huge, maybe as much as 100 meters tall,” said 27-year-old Huang Shiting, who lives close to the site.
“I heard the first explosion and everyone went outside, then there was a series of more explosions, windows shattered and a lot of people who were inside were hurt and came running out, bleeding,” he told AFP.
The blasts were so enormous that Japanese weather satellites picked them up on radar.
State media also said senior managers of Ruihai Logistics, which owned the warehouse where the explosions took place, were being questioned by authorities.
According to unconfirmed reports citing a blog run by China’s Ministry of Public Security Fire, the company handles hazardous materials.
Some local reports indicated that residents had been warned to close their windows in case hazardous gases were suspected of having been released.
Tianjin is one of the largest cities in China, two hours’ drive from Beijing, with an estimated population of more than 15 million people.
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