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Survivor pulled from shipping container 62 hours after blasts rock Chinese city of Tianjin, as death toll rises to 112

Survivor pulled from shipping container 62 hours after blasts rock Chinese city of Tianjin, as death toll rises to 112

Celine Sun

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Han Fengqun, 56, was found in a shipping container 50 metres from the centre of the blast area. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Rescuers made a miracle find on Saturday afternoon by pulling a survivor from the wreckage of the twin blasts at a Tianjin dangerous goods warehouse, on the same as more blasts rattled the site.

The man was discovered nearly three days after the massive explosions as the death toll crept up to 112, state media reported.

95 people are missing in the aftermath of the blast, 72 of which are firemen.

Han Fengqun, 56, was found at 2pm in a shipping container 50 metres from the centre of the blast area, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

He was found by troops trained in chemical defence and warfare under a pile of shipping containers that had been buckled by the force of the blasts on Wednesday night.

They had been searching through the containers by torchlight before they found him, the report said.

He was still conscious and able to say a few words before he was taken to a military hospital.

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Firefighters work at the site of the explosions in Tianjin on Saturday. Photo: AFP

China News Service reported he was in critical condition and suffering from severe dehydration and respiratory failure. Doctors earlier said he had suffered burns to his throat and lungs, plus several fractures to his body.

Han comes from Henan province and had been running a grocery business in the city’s port for two years.

State television said he had spoken to his family by phone on Wednesday night before the blasts and then went missing.

WATCH: Raw footage of the powerful explosions that rocked Tianjin on Wednesday evening

The chemical defence force of the Beijing garrison started their search at noon after receiving a report that another resident, an employee working for a logistics company at the port, was still missing.

A team of 70 chemical warfare troops searched the area looking for survivors, Xinhua said.

A 19-year-old firefighter, Zhou Ti, was found alive near the centre of the blasts on Friday morning. He was among the first firefighters to reach the scene on Wednesday night.

He suffered burns to his face and eyes as well as fractured ribs, state media reported.

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Photo taken on Saturday shows a scene of the warehouse explosion site in Tianjin. Photo: Xinhua

Meanwhile, as new explosions rocked the site on Saturday, some residents were told to stay indoors or voluntarily left temporary shelters due to changes in the wind direction, amid lingering concerns about a chemical contamination in the industrial zone.

Despite rumours and news reports that an evacuation had been enacted for a radius of up to 3 kilometres, a government official in Tianjin denied that this was the case.

Seven or eight fresh blasts caused new fires to break out at the facility in the port city, the state news agency Xinhua reported. It did not give details about the scale of the latest explosions.

As the list of casualties count continued to grow, the Pope offered prayers in Rome for the victims and their families.

“Those who have lost their lives as well as all those touched by this catastrophe are in my prayers,” Pope Francis said during angelus prayers at St Peter’s in Rome during the Catholic Feast of the Assumption, which marks Christ’s mother Mary’s ascent to heaven.

Starting from 11am, police and volunteers with loudspeakers were telling Tianjin residents to start evacuating the danger zone, The Beijing News reported on its news website.

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Local people pray for victims as they lay flowers and light candles outside Taida hospital in Tianjin. Photo: EPA

However, some residents had reportedly returned later in the day after the wind direction changed again.

Police blocked Donghai Road, the main road leading to the blast zone. At the same, teams in vehicles were seen clearing paths for rescue efforts.

Thirteen firefighters and an unknown number of port workers were still missing, Xinhua reported.

One firefighter was rescued from the ruins of the warehouse early Friday morning.

The disaster started when two explosions with a combined force of 24 tonnes of TNT ripped through the industrial Binhai New Area, burning everything in its path and damaging infrastructure up to 1 kilometre away, including surround apartment blocks.

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The charred remains of new cars at the site of the warehouse explosion. Photo: Xinhua

At least 721 people were injured when explosions and a fireball hit the warehouse late Wednesday. Twenty-five were critically wounded and another 33 were in a serious condition, Xinhua said.

More than 1,000 rescuers were proceeding slowly in uncertain conditions where unidentified hazardous substances triggered the explosion, authorities said.

Armed police were carrying out the evacuation after highly poisonous sodium cyanide was found at the site, The Beijing News said, as the blaze intensified dramatically, with several blasts reportedly heard.

“Out of consideration for toxic substances spreading, the masses nearby have been asked to evacuate,” Xinhua said.

Officials said earlier that specialists from sodium cyanide producers were being sent in to the hazardous goods storage facility where giant explosions days earlier sent a huge fireball soaring into the sky and left a vast radius of destruction.

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An aerial view of a large hole in the ground in the aftermath of a huge explosion that rocked the port city. Photo: EPA

Authorities have struggled to control the resulting days-long blaze and identify the substances present at the scene, sparking fears among locals.

Furious residents and victims’ relatives railed against officials outside a news conference for keeping them in the dark as criticism over a lack of transparency mounted. There were 21 firefighters among the dead, authorities said.

They were prevented from entering the briefing and could be heard shouting outside.

“Nobody has told us anything, we’re in the dark, there is no news at all,” screamed one middle-aged woman, as she was dragged away by security personnel.

Officials said they were unable to identify precisely what chemicals were at the site at the time.

At the news conference, Tianjin work safety official Gao Huaiyou listed a host of possible substances, adding that recent large exports that passed through the site had included sodium bisulfide, magnesium, sodium, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and sodium cyanide, among others.

“We believe there should still be a lot stored at the terminal areas,” he said.

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Pope Francis delivers a blessing from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter’s Square in Rome on Saturday during the Angelus noon prayer at the Vatican. He also gave his condolences to the victims in Tianjin. Photo: AP

Personnel from sodium cyanide producers had been called in “because they are experts on the chemical’s nature and the ways to deal with it”, he added.

A sewage pipe where the chemical had reportedly been detected had been sealed off, he said.

More than 200 nuclear and biochemical experts from the Chinese military were deployed to Tianjin, which has a population of 15 million, on Thursday.

Concerns about the chemical cocktail also raised questions over whether firefighters responding to an initial blaze at the warehouse could have contributed to the detonations by spraying water over substances that react explosively to it.

One senior official insisted firefighters had followed the proper procedures, but noted that they were unaware of the precise chemicals present when they arrived.

“It is not clear whether a chemical reaction occurred,” said Lei Jinde, the head of the firefighting department at Tianjin’s public security bureau.

“We knew there was calcium carbide, but we don’t know whether the calcium carbide exploded and caught fire,” he said in an interview published by Xinhua. “It is not that the firefighters were fools … No, it is not that.”

Lei said that the facility was listed as holding ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, as well as calcium carbide.

State newspaper The People’s Daily said earlier that the facility’s construction “clearly violated” safety rules.

Under Chinese regulations, warehouses stocking dangerous materials must be at least one kilometre away from surrounding public buildings and main roads, it said, but there were two residential compounds and several main roads within that distance.

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Smoke rises next to a damaged building at the site of the explosions. Photo: Reuters

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Firefighters run as smoke rises at the site of the explosions at the Binhai. Photo: Reuters

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An aerial view of the blast scene in Tianjin. Photo: Beijing Youth Daily

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Firemen rest after battling the blaze for hours and recovering bodies, which emergency teams had yet to transport to the proper facilities. Photo: EPA

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An aerial view shows the explosion site in Tianjin. Photo: People’s Daily

INFOGRAPHIC: The toxic cocktail in warehouse at centre of fatal explosions in Tianjin, China

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Blast survivor found inside shipping container

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 12:07am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 11:12am

#TianjinExplosion12August2015

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