Four days after several mammoth chemical explosions killed more than 100 people in the Chinese city of Tianjin, government officials in the country are working to control the flow of information about the disaster.
On Monday, China shut down or suspended 50 different websites that were disseminating information about the blasts that occurred in the port city about 100 miles southeast of Beijing. According to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the offending websites allegedly published rumors, including claims that "the blasts killed at least 1,000 people," "shopping malls in Tianjin got looted," and that there was a "leadership change in Tianjin government."
At the same time, China has mobilized thousands of rescuer workers — including 2,000 soldiers and police officers, and 200 "biochemical troopers" — to search for survivors and clean up after the blast. "We are using the best of our resources," Wang Jiancun, director of Tianjin Health and Family Planning Commission, told the state news agency Xinhua on Monday.
More than 72 hours after the initial blast, Chinese rescue workers are still pulling bodies out of the rubble and finding new survivors.
The incident and its aftermath have provoked reactions from the highest echelons of the Chinese state. On Saturday, President Xi Jinping issued a written statement that "urged authorities to learn from the 'extremely profound' lessons paid for with blood," Xinhua reported. Tianjin Vice Mayor He Shushan also vowed that all dangerous chemicals at the blast site's outer area would be cleaned up by Monday evening.
The initial blast occurred last Wednesday at a warehouse containing hazardous materials at the Tianjin Binhai New Development Zone at around 11:30pm local time. The first eruption, which was reportedly sparked by "inflammables and explosives," set off more fires in the surrounding area.
Authorities quickly evacuated residents within a 1.8-mile radius of the blast site, citing fears of chemical contamination. Chinese state media reported that the warehouse was storing more than 700 tons of sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical that can create a flammable gas when it comes into contact with water. The two main explosions Wednesday are thought to have occurred roughly 40 minutes after firefighters responded to a fire in the area and attempted to put it out with water. At least 21 Chinese firefighters are among the dead.
It's still unclear why dangerous chemicals were stored in such large amounts — more than 70 times than legally allowed — and at such close proximity to homes and public buildings. Under Chinese law, hazardous materials must be stored at least 1,000 yards from residential areas and public infrastructure.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Tianjin on Sunday and promised to investigate the disaster fully. "The accident has incurred heavy casualties and taught us an extremely painful lesson," he said.
He also ordered chemical companies and to redouble their safety inspections, and directed provinces to take stock of their chemical storage and transportation protocols.
During the premier's visit, Tianjin residents whose homes were destroyed by the explosion staged rare protests demanding compensation.
So far, the blast has displaced 6,000 people and affected over 17,000 homes. On Sunday, a group of residents pennedan open letter to authorities voicing concerns about their safety.
"Our neighbors lost their lives there. Their screams can never be erased for a long time," the letter said. "How can we live in that 'execution ground' with any peace of mind?"
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