But what set off the terrifying explosions that ripped through warehouses containing hazardous chemical materials, shooting fireballs across the sky and shaking buildings more than 2 miles away?
Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million people, the cause of Wednesday night’s blast remained unclear.
A chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.
Among the 50 confirmed dead are 12 firefighters, officials said Thursday. More than 500 people are hospitalized, 71 in critical condition, the state-run Xinhua news outlet reported. Dozens of firefighters are missing.
Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, Xinhua said.
About the “dangerous substances” what kind? Radiation? Nerve agents? Carcinogens? One site said it was an explosives shipment.
Huge explosions at a warehouse for dangerous materials in the northeastern Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 50 people, including 17 firefighters, and injured hundreds of others.
The massive blasts late on Wednesday night sent fireballs into the air forming a mushroom cloud in the sky.
More than 700 people are receiving treatment in hospital, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Seventy-one of them are said to be in a critical condition.
About 8,000 troops trained in anti-chemical warfare and about 1,500 armed police joined relief and rescue efforts on Thursday afternoon.
Experts in biological and nuclear hazards have also joined the rescue effort, state media said.
The city’s fire brigade said its personnel were sent to the warehouse at about 10.50pm on Wednesday night, 40 minutes before the first large explosion occurred.
Among the chemicals the company handles are sodium cyanide, often used in the mining industry to help extract gold; plus toluene diisocyanate, a toxic organic compound, the China Youth Daily reported, citing the firm’s website.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said an initial explosion triggered other blasts at nearby businesses. The National Earthquake Bureau reported two major blasts before midnight, the first with an equivalent of 3 tonnes of TNT and the second with the equivalent of 21 tonnes.