TIANJIN, China—Chinese workers in hazardous material suits began clearing wreckage including charred car bodies and crumpled shipping containers from the site of a chemical warehouse that exploded last week, killing at least 114.
Officials have ordered nationwide checks on dangerous materials, and the Chinese military said it was inspecting storage measures for weapons, ammunition, and fuel as well as chemical, explosive and toxic materials, the official newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily reported.
Training on the handling of such materials and on executing emergency response plans was also to be stepped-up, the newspaper said.
Official corruption was added to the contributing causes to the Aug. 12 disaster in the port city of Tianjin following revelations Wednesday that the son of a former police chief, one of two silent owners of the warehouse, used his connections to help obtain licenses despite safety violations.
The other owner is a former executive at a state-owned chemical company who also used his connections to smooth the way for approval for the facility run by Ruihai International Logistics, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
The explosions that rocked the port city of Tianjin were among China’s worst industrial accidents in recent years and the deadliest on record for the country’s firefighters, who make up 102 of the 179 total dead and missing. Authorities say almost 700 people remain hospitalized, while 30,000 people in and around the area have had their lives turned upside-down by the incident.
A key issue turns on how the warehouse was able to store toxic chemicals, including sodium cyanide, ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, even though it was located less than the required 1,000 metres (yards) from homes and public roads _ a clear violation of state safety rules.
One explanation offered by silent owners, identified as former SinoChem executive Yu Xuewei and the late Tianjin port police chief’s son, Dong Shexuan, is that they shopped around until they found a licensed safety inspection company that would give its approval.
The two are among at least 10 people reportedly taken into custody, including top officials of the warehouse’s management company.
China’s Cabinet has pledged that its investigation will find the cause of the blast, assign responsibility and recommend punishment. After days without a statement, Tianjin Mayor Huang Xingguo appeared at a news conference Wednesday saying he would take ultimate responsibility for the disaster.
Additionally, the head of the government body in charge of industrial safety, Yang Dongliang, has been placed under investigation for corruption. Yang had previously worked for 18 years in Tianjin in state industry and local government, rising to executive vice mayor. His son has also reportedly been taken in for questioning.
Homeowners have protested daily on city streets demanding that the government compensate them for damaged homes that they fear are now unlivable because of chemical contamination.
“How are we supposed to live in this ghost town now,” said resident Niu Guijun. “If the government insists on telling us that there’s no problem, they’re welcome to move in and we’ll let the officials live there free of charge.”
Associated Press video journalist Wong Wai-bor in Tianjin and writers Christopher Bodeen, Ian Mader and Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.