The death toll at the Chinese port of Tianjin, rocked earlier this week by a series of devastating explosions, has risen to 104, the Associated Press reports, including 21 firefighters. An unknown number of firefighters remain missing.
Chinese authorities ordered further evacuations after new, smaller explosions ripped through the area, an important port and petrochemical hub about 75 miles east of Beijing, on Saturday. Everyone within three kilometers of the blast site has been ordered to evacuate over fears that the highly toxic chemical sodium cyanide, discovered at the site, could cause more casualties.
“Out of consideration for toxic substances spreading, the masses nearby have been asked to evacuate,” state media hub Xinhua reported. According to The Guardian, the order came after authorities detected a change in the wind threatened to spread the poison inland. (The New York Times reports that the evacuation order has since been rescinded.)
The BBC reports that anti-chemical warfare troops have entered the site. One man was found alive 50 meters from the blast core. Many firefighters who responded to initial reports of a fire at the site on Wednesday are still missing, thought to have been overwhelmed by the colossal explosions that followed.
The disaster has raised questions about whether dangerous chemicals were being stored too close to residential compounds, and whether firefighters may have triggered the blasts, possibly because they were unaware the warehouse contained chemicals combustible on contact with water. The massive explosions Wednesday happened about 40 minutes after reports of a fire at the warehouse and after an initial wave of firefighters arrived and, reportedly, doused some of the area with water.
On Saturday morning, relatives of missing firefighters confronted police officials at a news conference, the New York Times reports, demanding information about their family members whose names do not appear on official lists of the missing and the dead.
“They’re only 18, 19 years old,” one woman yelled. “The oldest is only 20 years old. They’re only children.”
“Not a single police officer death has been reported,” a police official responded. “Everyone from our whole police station is gone.”