Massive explosion in Tianjin
August 12, 2015 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Multiple explosions have hit Tianjin's port area. Tianjin is the 4th-largest city in China, sitting squarely next to Beijing in the Bohai Economic Rim, which includes the Hebei area, and slated to be one of the areas of focus and development by the central government. The explosions (recorded footage) have taken place in the Binhai region, by the coast. Details are still incoming, but early indications suggest an industrial accident with 300 casualties.
posted by qcubed (191 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by drezdn at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ.

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posted by Phire at 2:47 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Details from the locals sharing in weibo, Gas station exploded -> ignited two oil tanks nearby the chemical warehouse -> chemical exploded, the firefighters failed to put it out and a series of explosions triggered by the chemicals in the container terminal, all firefighters/police, people who watching nearby die on scene instantly.
Chemicals: Compressed and liquefied gases (argon, compressed natural gas); flammable liquid (methyl ethyl ketone, ethyl acetate); flammable materials(sulfur, nitrocellulose, calcium carbide, calcium alloy); oxidizers and organic peroxides (potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, etc.); toxic chemicals (sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate)"

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People from 10km away can feel the shockwave, windows shattered. The Donghai Road station is destroyed. Hospitals are overloaded with patients.
They said no one is alive within 1 km of the explosion(Busted), the explosions happened in tanggu district which is close to residential area.(550meters away), at least three estates in that area.
The total population of Binhai is 2.5 millions and the population density in the area is expected 2000/kmsq, expected injuries/casualties will be around 7000~70000.


This reddit comment has a lot of info, apparently sourced from Weibo. I don't know how much of this can actually be confirmed yet.

The location some are suggesting.
posted by qcubed at 2:47 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


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I have now learned that "wo cao" means something like "holy shit." There is no other response. I don't believe I've ever seen a video where the shockwave from a mushroom cloud hit somebody.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:49 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 2:51 PM on August 12, 2015


For scale the second explosion was supposedly equivalent to 21 tons of dynamite. 1/1000th of Hiroshima's bombing.
posted by srboisvert at 2:51 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's so awful.

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posted by Caduceus at 2:52 PM on August 12, 2015


Christ. Look at the size of the thing compared to the buildings in front of it. Horrifying.
posted by brundlefly at 2:53 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


CNN is reporting 7 dead, 180 injured
posted by Clustercuss at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2015


They said no one is alive within 1km of the explosion

Yeah, with that extensive of a mess, unfortunately there's no doubt that '7 dead and 300 injured' count will go much, much higher....
posted by easily confused at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2015


The compilation youtube of close up smartphone video is terrifying. I will be amazed if its only 300. Just terrible.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:57 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


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Dear gods, that is horrifying. Is there any way we can help the survivors and the families who have lost loved ones?
posted by Deoridhe at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by tonycpsu at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2015


Be careful if you start watching some of the videos showing up: some of them are disturbing and directly show people being killed.
posted by bitterpants at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Shades of Texas City.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


3 tons and 21 tons of TNT, which, if that holds up, is less than the 2 kt of Port Chicago.

The cleanup of this will likely be a toxic mess, too. That's a highly industrial port area, so I'm not surprised about the chemicals.

Legit horrifying.
posted by qcubed at 3:02 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dear gods, that is horrifying. Is there any way we can help the survivors and the families who have lost loved ones?

Don't know yet--I do know that one should avoid the Chinese Red Cross on accounts of its less than transparent practices and surprising wealth of some employees.
posted by qcubed at 3:03 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also shades of the Halifax Harbour explosion.

"The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT... Nearly all structures within a half-mile (800 m) radius, including the entire community of Richmond, were obliterated. A pressure wave of air snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the Mont-Blanc for kilometres. Hardly a window in the city proper survived the concussion. "
posted by GuyZero at 3:10 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


there's a subthread on the reddit thread on this now by someone whose business is involved in logistics saying that early reports indicate most or all of the container freight ships / cargo in the port was damaged or destroyed as well.

So this doesn't just involve the refinery crew but also a very densely populated residential area within close proximity and most or all of the crew and personnel aboard the cargo vessels.

This is enormous. The main explosion could be seen from space, there are also captures of that from weather satellites posted within the r/worldnews discussion as well.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:11 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know about the accuracy of that Reddit post. (Except for the size of the explosions, which was measured by seismographs and is probably correct.) Details are always sketchy and inaccurate immediately after a disaster, especially the details concerning how it started.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:12 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dear gods, that is horrifying. Is there any way we can help the survivors and the families who have lost loved ones?

I have no stats/facts to back this up at my fingertips, but I feel like the best way to help in situations like these is to already be making regular contributions to a reputable disaster relief agency like Doctors Without Border/MSF so that they can maintain the capability to respond quickly and effectively when needed.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:18 PM on August 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


Jesus Christ. Here's a slo-mo version of one of the videos. The shockwave at the end is just terrifying. I can't imagine that.
posted by brundlefly at 3:19 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


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This is horrifying.
posted by sukeban at 3:21 PM on August 12, 2015


Jesus.

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posted by Pope Guilty at 3:25 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by cotton dress sock at 3:25 PM on August 12, 2015


> Jesus Christ. Here's a slo-mo version of one of the videos. The shockwave at the end is just terrifying. I can't imagine that.

A warning on that video--the person doing the filming dies (at least according to a commenter). Apparently the video was being live-streamed.
posted by toofuture at 3:34 PM on August 12, 2015


I live near an area with multiple oil refineries, gas power stations, and chemical works, all crammed into a small strip of land. An explosion of this kind is basically the nightmare that folk are very much aware could happen, however remote they know it might be. You must believe that the people in charge of health and safety are actually doing their job else you wouldn’t want go anywhere near the place.

The nearby Nypro disaster—which was undoubtedly small in relation to whatever has happened in Tianjin, and killed “only” 28 people—is still somewhat of a landmark memory for the older generation locally. They all remember windows blowing in, rattling in their frames, and the feeling as the air rippled round their body, even if they were miles away. For them, at least as it was back in 1974, the worst was not knowing what had happened or how bad it could be. They knew it was an explosion, but where, and what?

It was lucky that the Nypro works was on a rural site and too far away from anywhere it could seriously harm. But for hours and hours they simply did not know if a village or town had been flattened. The greatest fear then was that the steelworks could explode—and it did, though on a far, far smaller scale, in the same year as Nypro—and that everybody would lose somebody they knew. Tianjin isn’t so lucky.
posted by Emma May Smith at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, damn. I missed that entirely. Apologies.
posted by brundlefly at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2015


> A warning on that video--the person doing the filming dies (at least according to a commenter). Apparently the video was being live-streamed.

i watched this even though i knew better. if a person was actually filming that and it wasn't a remote camera, then yeah. it is literally the very last thing that they would ever see. i think i'm going to curl up under my desk again for a while and not come out. holy shit.

i'd recommend not doing what i did, and stay away from any videos for at least a while. i can't even imagine what some of the others are like
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:37 PM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


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posted by ipsative at 3:38 PM on August 12, 2015


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The combined explosive equivalent of 24 tons of TNT is the equivalent of having over 3200 artillery shells go off at once. We will be incredibly fortunate if deaths are only measured in hundreds.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by bakery at 3:48 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by brambleboy at 3:58 PM on August 12, 2015


"Chemicals: Compressed and liquefied gases (argon, compressed natural gas); flammable liquid (methyl ethyl ketone, ethyl acetate); flammable materials(sulfur, nitrocellulose, calcium carbide, calcium alloy); oxidizers and organic peroxides (potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, etc.); toxic chemicals (sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate)"

This combination of chemicals is....almost like it was designed for maximizing destruction. Oxidizers and peroxides plus flammable organics for explosiveness and combustion, compressed gases for shockwave, toxic cyanides dispersed by the explosion for casualties. Horrifying.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


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posted by angrycat at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2015


Existential Dread: “This combination of chemicals is....almost like it was designed for maximizing destruction.”
That's what I was thinking. Those sound like a bunch of things that shouldn't be kept together.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:03 PM on August 12, 2015


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Thinking not only of those who died, but those who are attempting to rescue those who survived.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Well the argon probably didn't contribute much.
posted by dilaudid at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


In the footage linked in the FPP, the time between the visible explosion and the shockwave is about 8 seconds, so the guy filming it was over a mile and a half away. That's crazy.
posted by KGMoney at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Whatever that was, that big detention was high-order. TNT, C4, Nitro based explosives. That wasn't a Bleve, that wasn't a gas tank, that wasn't AFNO, that was a high-order detonation that was shattering things kilometers out -- the video link (4th link) is about 1.4 miles (2.3km) away from the detonation and it damn near knocks them down.

Port Chicago/Halifax is exactly correct here. This isn't a chemical accident. That was munitions or munitions stock gone wrong.

Details are still incoming, but early indications suggest an industrial accident with 300 casualties.

It would be a miracle of miracles if only 300 were hurt or killed. 3000 is far more likely. Look at how close those buildings are. Fragments would be flying hundreds of yards.

So far, they've seen that many. The people up close to that? They'll never find them. They're gone -- vaporized. The people nearby are bits, but we'll those bits one they get close. First, though, they're going to have to get through the mangled wreckage.

A real question is fire effects -- how many, how hard are they burning, what are they burning and what effect will that have? One report on twitter, via The Graun is "Dozens of buildings collapsed."

This tweet is implying effects 10km away from the blast -- a BMW (or a chinese clone of a BMW, can't see the badge, but the grills look Beemer) covered in rubble, and a van in a hole.

The #tianjin hashtag is an absolute horrorshow, but it is twitter, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by eriko at 4:08 PM on August 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm wondering how common it is to store chemicals like that near each other. It seems like industrial zones will invariably have that situation.
posted by qcubed at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by halifix at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2015


This warning should not be necessary, but sometimes your curiosity can get the best of you, so be warned:
DO NOT READ THE YOUTUBE COMMENTS, unless you are a researcher studying the banality of evil or writing a paper about /pol/.
posted by jake at 4:17 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


CNN is being blocked from covering - one correspondent was yanked off the air. No surprise there.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Eriko, some peroxides can detonate at the drop of a hat. Could that be it?
posted by double block and bleed at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2015


Eriko, some peroxides can detonate at the drop of a hat. Could that be it?

Yes, but if you're storing concentrated peroxides in a city, you've basically already committed a crime against humanity.

In fact, I'll bet if the truth ever really comes out, it's going to boil down to somebody storing something that should have *NEVER* been stored in a city. I don't know if it'll be something merely moderately dumb like several tons of TNT or something actually dumb like that, but somebody will have manifested something completely harmless but shipped in something dangerous because they didn't want to do the paperwork or deal with proper storage, because that costs real money and takes real space and time and we can't have that, can we?

Because that's almost always how this goes down.

At least in Port Chicago and Halifax they had the fig leaf of 'There was a war on.'
posted by eriko at 4:24 PM on August 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm wondering how common it is to store chemicals like that near each other. It seems like industrial zones will invariably have that situation.

Ideally, you'd have incompatible classes separated by some distance and by fire breaks/spill containment, along with specific maximum volumes or quantities per building. I'm only speaking from experience with US industrial regulations, however. Obviously, in a big enough fire they'll probably all go up, but hopefully they'd be separated well enough to avoid any secondary explosive effects, particularly with oxidizers/peroxides and organics/fuels/combustibles well apart.

Still, the West Fertilizer Company explosion (ammonium nitrate + fertilizer) was estimated at 10 tons of TNT equivalency, which is on the scale of the destruction here (albeit in a much less populated area). Store enough volume of these chemicals and you can easily imagine something like this happening.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:31 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


madamjujujive: "CNN is being blocked from covering - one correspondent was yanked off the air. No surprise there."

I wonder if we'll ever find out the real death toll. from the size of that explosion and the truly terrible pictures and videos on twitter, there has to be a lot more than the 13 fatalities CNN currently reports.

This is terrible. Those poor people.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:34 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hope this is just a horrible accident and not the dawn of some new level of terrorist shit.
posted by humanfont at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The compilation youtube of close up smartphone video is terrifying. I will be amazed if its only 300. Just terrible.

Fuck, is the person who shot that first video even alive? The explosion goes so quickly towards them that i have to wonder if the video was just being livestreamed/directly recorded in an upload app and was saved, not that it was uploaded later. Especially when it cuts off where it does.

Did we just watch someone die?
posted by emptythought at 4:40 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if we'll ever find out the real death toll.

Probably not, but no matter what they attempt to do, they won't be able to suppress what has happened. Even in heavily-censored China, video and photos emerged instantly. I'm trying to imagine how much less we would have known if this had happened 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. Thinking, perhaps, of my own experiences, how would my (our) understanding of 9/11 be different in this age of Twitter, Periscope, and Meerkat? It's horrifying to think about, but you'd have hundreds of people streaming video from their offices, maybe firefighters with GoPros, etc. More and more, we seem to be living in a world where large events -- particularly disasters -- are broadcast as they happen, by the people experiencing them.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:40 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Aaaaand reading the comments i realize that yep, that was the case :(
posted by emptythought at 4:42 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are no people in these photos - @shanghaiist >1,000 new cars parked 300m away from explosion site utterly destroyed.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:42 PM on August 12, 2015


Beware terrible imaginings.
posted by mrdaneri at 4:44 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


not the dawn of some new level of terrorist shit

If we're speculating some crazy stuff like that, it's not terrorists I'm worried about. It's something like this.
posted by qcubed at 4:45 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


they won't be able to suppress what has happened

I just spent 30 minutes reading through the reddit thread. All the videos and photos I watched would probably have been preferred to be censored by the Chinese government, and in 30 minutes I've probably seen 10x what I'd see in three hours of watching TV tonight.
posted by MillMan at 4:45 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think this is more than 20t TNT equivalent. That's the straight conversion to a 2.9mmag tremor earthquake, but most of the energy of this blast went up and out, it didn't couple cleanly to the ground.

I'm thinking we're looking at much more -- 100t or more.

There are no people in these photos - @shanghaiist >1,000 new cars parked 300m away from explosion site utterly destroyed.

One bit of luck here is this happened in the middle of the night. That lot is full of new cars -- but would not have been full of people. That building would have been mostly empty.

If this had happened at 9AM local, that building is probably full of workers who are now dead.
posted by eriko at 4:46 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am watching the video and just caught myself yelling, "Get away from the window!"

Horrifying.
posted by grimjeer at 4:46 PM on August 12, 2015


San Luis Obispo had an "Oil Tank Farm" that blowed up real good almost 90 years ago. "The fire sucked in so much oxygen that the wind broke windows, collapsed six houses, destroyed roofs in Edna [several miles away], and even uprooted trees." Still, a small 'poof' compared to today's historic disaster. But that, plus an oil pipeline leak discovered in 1989 that effectively turned the resort town of Avila Beach into a toxic no-mans land (which is only partly cleaned up today), makes this area very "oil shy". There are currently two "energy/environment" issues locally; one is the pending re-certification of the 30-year-old Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (the last such facility in California today, with close-by earthquake faults discovered since its construction) and the other is plans to plan to upgrade the Philips 66 refinery in Nipomo Mesa so it can receive train car crude oil deliveries. And the "oil trains" issue seems to be getting more concern and protest (but then, nobody lives right next door to the nuke plant, while the rail lines that will be used pass through neighborhoods in all directions for many miles.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:47 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]




This reminds me of a chapter from the novel Alas, Babylon. In the beginning of the chapter, an errant US missile fired by a twitchy ensign mistakenly hits the port of Latakia and detonates a secret Soviet munition stockpile.

At the end of the chapter, the President authorizes the release of the US nuclear arsenal ninety-five seconds before the first warnings of incoming ballistic missiles arrive.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do wonder about the actual scale of the explosion. Shanghaist has some photos taken 500m away from the blast, and the containers, at least at first glance, look relatively undamaged.
posted by Nevin at 4:55 PM on August 12, 2015


It takes a lot for me to say "oh my god" out loud alone by myself. I can't even begin to comprehend how bad this is going to turn out.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2015


Nevin:
"the containers, at least at first glance, look relatively undamaged."
I dunno... they don't look properly stacked though. Normally they stack quite neatly on top of each other. These seem shifted. There's one that looks like it's hanging over the ones below by half for its entire length.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:00 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


double block and bleed's video link is consistent with the Reddit post that said it started with a gas station fire. There's something burning on the horizon, then the first explosion, and then the second. (Incidentally, there's a moving vehicle in the middle distance that seems to disappear after the first explosion, but it may have managed to get out of the shot.)
posted by Kevin Street at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2015


Regarding the death toll: according to the BBC article, the explosions happened at 23:30ish. If this is a largely industrial area, might that timing keep the death toll lower? Presumably we'd see fewer people at work at that hour.

Granted, I'm making that guess based on American standards, and for all I know this district is one of those sorts of places that never sleeps, but one can hope.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:02 PM on August 12, 2015


It may be in an industrial area, but the map looks like it's close to a residential area.
posted by qcubed at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2015


From the South China Morning Post:

About 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the explosion site is the luxury Fifth Avenue apartment complex on a road strewn with broken glass and pieces of charred metal thrown from explosion. Like surrounding buildings, the Mediterranean style complex had all its windows blown out, and some its surfaces were scorched.

“It’s lucky no one had moved in,” said a worker on the site, Liu Junwei, 29. “But for us it’s a total loss. Two years hard work down the drain.”

posted by awfurby at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2015


Gods. Those poor people.
No words...
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2015


Also from the South China Morning Post article, linked above: "Police in Tianjin said an initial blast took place at shipping containers in a warehouse for hazardous materials owned by Ruihai Logistics, a company that says it’s properly approved to handle hazardous materials. State media said senior management of the company had been detained by authorities."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:33 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Horrifying. And to consider how many other Tianjins are waiting to happen right now... Holy crap I never want to see anything like that again.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:35 PM on August 12, 2015


The scale of this explosion is insane. I can't even imagine the force required to do that sort of damage so distant from the center of the blast.

I agree that it's almost certainly military explosives going of because that doesn't seem like a normal chemical explosion. I doubt we'll ever get a complete accounting but I wouldn't be shocked if one of the zillion Chinese military companies was storing some shit that they shouldn't have in that location.
posted by vuron at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2015


State media said senior management of the company had been detained by authorities.

I wouldn't want to be those people right now.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm wondering how common it is to store chemicals like that near each other. It seems like industrial zones will invariably have that situation.

It's probably a horrifyingly common practice in nations without the US's levels of regulation.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Horrifying is too weak of a word. So awful, I can't even imagine.
posted by Fig at 5:42 PM on August 12, 2015


While we wait to learn more...

"The point is that catastrophe always means social change. There is not always progress. It is well to guard against confusion here. Change means any qualitative variation, whereas progress means “amelioration, perfectionment.” The latter will be seen to depend on other things—the nature of the shock, the models presented, the community culture and morale, the stimulus of leaders and lookers-on." --Catastrophe and Social Change: Based Upon a Sociological Study of the Halifax Disaster (1920), by Samuel Henry Prince
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:49 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Guardian is reporting that a shipment of ammunition did trigger the explosion.
posted by Nevin at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2015


Ain't in office yet and don't have the regulation with me. But the industrial fire regular is actually ridiculously strict.
In my limited experience the problem is the general attitude of doing just enoght to satisfy the regulation on the surface till the fire inspection, and then disregarding it. A better to ask for forgiveness that permission attitude.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 5:58 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by saulgoodman at 5:58 PM on August 12, 2015


Clearest video I've seen
posted by pjern at 6:00 PM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


The Guardian is reporting that a shipment of ammunition did trigger the explosion.

They are? All I can find is "dangerous materials."
posted by Spathe Cadet at 6:03 PM on August 12, 2015


We may never know the truth. The government of China has a long history of covering up anything that could make the government look bad. For instance, we may never get a true casualty accounting. (Almost certainly the true number will exceed the official number.)

24 tons of TNT explosive equivalent isn't really very big; there have been a lot of industrial accidents which dwarf that. For instance, the PEPCON disaster, in which 4500 tons of Ammonium Perchlorate detonated.

I have a feeling the Chinese government is already engaging in coverup; I bet the actual explosive yield was considerably higher than that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by Songdog at 6:23 PM on August 12, 2015


Some of the South China Morning Post's links to this article attribute the blast to an "explosives shipment", but the actual article only mentions "hazardous materials".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2015


Oh, sorry, the Guardian reported it as a "shipment of explosives".
posted by Nevin at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2015


I'm wondering how common it is to store chemicals like that near each other. It seems like industrial zones will invariably have that situation.

It's probably a horrifyingly common practice in nations without the US's levels of regulation.


And Texas.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


For what it's worth, I'm actually a little relieved that the Chinese government has not tried scrubbing this from Weibo like it tried to 4 years ago with a high-speed train crash.

Obviously, it didn't work then, so maybe they learned their lesson? Or, more likely, this one is a bit too big and visible to really do anything to cover up anything except the details.

I also wonder if it's because there are people alive that they can definitely pin the blame on and then "reeducate" at a later point.
posted by qcubed at 6:31 PM on August 12, 2015


In one of Richard Feynman's books (or perhaps in James Gleick's biography of Feynman), there's a story about a trip Feynman took to a warehouse that was storing plutonium that had been enriched as part of the Manhattan Project.

My nuclear physics is pretty rusty (read: nonexistent), but the gist was: you don't want to store too much enriched plutonium in too small a space. Like, you really don't want to do that. Above a certain density, the radiation from the material is likely to start a chain reaction in nearby material, and then Extremely Bad Things happen. You need to keep it spread out.

But the guys working at this warehouse didn't know that—oh, they'd been told, but they didn't really understand the gravity of the matter. Nowadays, nuclear materials are handled by specialized companies who are trained and equipped for the task—but at the time, this was bleeding-edge, experimental science, and there were no such specialists. The government just hired some company.

You can see where this is going. As I recall the story, Feynman arrived at the warehouse, and was horrified to find that they'd ignored the safety protocols they'd been given. He freaked out on them, and got them to understand that they were going to kill everyone in the fucking town if they didn't move that shit immediately. And that's how Richard Feynman saved that town from becoming the site of the world's first nuclear disaster.

Anyway. I just keep thinking of that story. It seems like Ruihai Logistics had to have been egregiously flaunting safety standards—because if you have any safety standards, it should not be physically possible for a disaster of this magnitude to occur.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:46 PM on August 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


EFTPP, there is no such thing as perfect safety standards, written or practiced. There is always a way for a fool to fuck up and cause a disaster. Engineers have a saying, "Every time you make something foolproof, they invent a better fool."

All you can do is to reduce the likelihood. But you'll roll craps eventually, no matter what you do.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:56 PM on August 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's probably a horrifyingly common practice in nations without the US's levels of regulation.

Unfortunately those in the U.S. who are obsessed with "small" government, deregulation, and "freedom" are working to ensure that any levels of regulation are reduced if not eliminated.
posted by juiceCake at 6:56 PM on August 12, 2015 [25 favorites]


I work for a large American logistics company, and we have very strict rules about how we handle hazardous shipments (we don't actually own any ships or aircraft, but we broker shipments and deal with consolidation of freight). Only people with specialized training can even deal with managing hazardous shipments. What happens to containers once they're packed and placed in the proper area of the container yard is probably beyond our ability to control.

As much freight out of China as we handle, I wouldn't be surprised if we have freight damaged or destroyed by this, though I have no idea if any of our freight was hazardous.
posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why is this currently buried in the NYT?
posted by delight at 7:05 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


i just learned that some missionary friends of mine live about 50 miles from the blast sight. I know 3 people in china, and 2 of them live next door to this tragedy. Funny, that.
posted by rebent at 7:08 PM on August 12, 2015


I just tuned into the CBC National expecting this to be the top story. Duffy trial is the top story, which was surprising, but outright shocking is that this wasn't listed as a story at all. Not one mention of the explosion yet. W. T. F., CBC???
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:11 PM on August 12, 2015


Ok, they finally got to it. It was a ten second story after a story about Kim Kardashian. Have I slipped into a parallel universe where even Peter Mansbridge is ridiculous and cannot be trusted?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:16 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


"...there's a story about a trip Feynman took to a warehouse that was storing plutonium that had been enriched as part of the Manhattan Project."

IIRC, it was at the Oak Ridge facility and it concerned the storage of the enriched uranium (in solution, I think). Los Alamos was more like a research facility where lots of people knew what was going on; Oak Ridge was this big industrial facility, like a chemical plant (gaseous diffusion) where almost no one knew anything about nuclear physics and thus the concerns about criticality. In my recollection, it wasn't that Feynman saw anything specifically that was unsafe, but rather that he could see that unsafe storage was possible in light of this ignorance. It wouldn't have caused an explosion, but would have released a lot of radiation.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:17 PM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm not much of an authoritarian, but I kinda find myself thinking that when there is a big industrial accident, injuring or killing people, or makes a toxic wasteland of a jillion acres, top company officials should be taken into custody as a precaution.
posted by maxwelton at 7:17 PM on August 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Previously in major manmade disasters the Chinese government attempted to downplay...
posted by Devonian at 7:25 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the corrections, Ivan. I figured I was probably mangling it somehow.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:35 PM on August 12, 2015




I've been reading some "China must have shit regulations!" comments elsewhere, and I think about the 3-4 oil tanker trains that go through my heavily populated neighborhood and city daily.

Yeah. We're perfect here in the USA, aren't we?
posted by glaucon at 7:49 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm not much of an authoritarian, but I kinda find myself thinking that when there is a big industrial accident, injuring or killing people, or makes a toxic wasteland of a jillion acres, top company officials should be taken into custody as a precaution.

That's true, but of the places I don't want to be detained for a lethal industrial accident, China ranks highly. They gave out a death penalty for making bad loans.
posted by pwnguin at 8:04 PM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course you have to detain the top company officials. How else are you supposed to make sure they all stick to the same story? Wouldn't want them to go around saying unfortunate things before the correct answer is devised determined.
posted by ctmf at 8:21 PM on August 12, 2015


Latest word from NBC is 17 dead, 283 wounded (for a nice round total of 300) with 32 critical.

That round number is suspicious.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:34 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Still nothing on washingtonpost.com. I remember when that used to be a newspaper.

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posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


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posted by joedan at 8:50 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reports are comming in of smaller explosions and fires are ongoing. The Weibo account for the local municipality has stated that firefighters are being pulled back and efforts to put out the blaze at the site of the explosions have stopped for the moment over uncertainty about the amount and types "dangerous goods" in affected warehouses.
posted by humanfont at 8:50 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the news coverage of this -- or lack thereof -- is weird.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


That list of stuff up there is really scary. "Nitrocellulose" is also known as "cordite" or "smokeless powder". It's what guns have used instead of gunpowder for the last 140 years.

Calcium metal is like sodium metal or potassium metal: it really likes water and gets very excited when it comes into contact.

Calcium carbide is another thing that loves water. When it gets wet it emits acetylene, which has been known to explode on occasion.

Firemen using firehoses to put out a fire can get a big surprise around that kind of stuff.

Compressed natural gas is essentially a bomb.

MEK has the same flammability rating as gasoline.

Compressed argon obviously doesn't burn, but anything compressed in a metal bottle can explode when exposed to high heat even if it isn't flammable. (Nitrogen can do the same thing.)

And of course potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate are lovely things to have around anything that can burn.

Under the circumstances, pulling all the firemen and letting this thing burn itself out is probably a smart move.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:15 PM on August 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


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posted by otherchaz at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:24 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by Anhedonic Donkey at 9:53 PM on August 12, 2015


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posted by of strange foe at 9:54 PM on August 12, 2015


Still nothing on washingtonpost.com. I remember when that used to be a newspaper.

I read this earlier today. Got the link from a Google news feed, so I dunno if its off the front page or not. But, still, they have covered it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:59 PM on August 12, 2015


This drone footage shows the devastation much more clearly. The daytime footage at the front is shocking (entire blocks on fire, no individuals to be seen, so footage is safe in that way).
posted by blahblahblah at 10:03 PM on August 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


Guardian has a live blog (and a correspondent on the scene).

I thought WaPo was Jeff Bezos' personal blog now anyway?
posted by Nevin at 10:26 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by b1tr0t at 10:34 PM on August 12, 2015


Yeah, the news coverage of this -- or lack thereof -- is weird.

Um, it's item number one in Top Stories in my Google News feed, with Time, The New York Times, CNN, and Fox all covering it within the last hour. Of course the stories and pictures are similar, unsurprisingly.

Current death toll listed as 44 with 500 injured. This number is certainly going to rise.
posted by happyroach at 12:23 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The drone footage blahblahblah cites shows how amazingly massive the destruction is, but I hate the musical accompaniment: humongous disaster with many REAL dead & injured here, and somebody felt the need to add some sort of zippy action-movie backup?!?
posted by easily confused at 1:32 AM on August 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


The Guardian just posted a picture of a parking lot full of cars that are all burned, and all about the same. That, plus some of the images from last night taken by that drone, seem strange.

The damage is too consistent over a very wide area. When you get an explosion, you expect an area in the middle where damage is maximum and it should decrease with range. This isn't like that; it almost looks like what happens with an FAE, where the explosion is about the same over a very wide area.

It makes me think that the main explosion was cause by a release of something like LNG. A big tank of LNG letting go would do this because the initial explosion would be self-limited by the amount of atmospheric oxygen available.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:35 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


It makes me think that the main explosion was cause by a release of something like LNG. A big tank of LNG letting go would do this because the initial explosion would be self-limited by the amount of atmospheric oxygen available.

You might not be taking into account the various oxidizers that were apparently present.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 2:09 AM on August 13, 2015


They said on Twitter that about one thousand of six thousand cars were scorched. (Not sure how they came up with that number, though, if nobody is allowed to go back.) So the damage isn't quite uniform. The entire area probably looks burned for blocks around because of soot accumulation from the ongoing fires.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:23 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


In disaster situations, aren't the listed death tolls CONFIRMED deaths, like accounted-for bodies? I don't remember any large disaster where the reported death till didn't start out as a tiny fraction of the final number. So I don't think it's inherently suspicious that the numbers are low right now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:22 AM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, just cause I'm not sure it was mentioned - Tianjin is bigger than NYC, like not quite half again as many people. I spent a night in a hotel there once as part of my first trip abroad, and I'm sorry to say I don't remember a ton about the city, but what did strike me was my own profound ignorance about the world. How could I have never heard of a city that dwarfed the biggest city in my own country? How could it be that all these millions of people in this one city had been going about their lives and I knew nothing at all about it? It was incredibly humbling. Since then, I've associated the name of the city with that feeling that the world was much bigger and much less known to me than I ever suspected it was, and that I had a kind of responsibility to both learn more about it and accept that I knew almost nothing about it.

I don't know what that point of this story is, except to say that seeing 'Tianjin' and 'disaster' together in a story made me cry. Because that city was the first to drive it home to me in a visceral way that when you see a disaster on the news on the other side of the globe, it's not just numbers, it's entire lives, just like yours.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:35 AM on August 13, 2015 [82 favorites]


The Beeb lists 36 firefighters missing and 12 dead.

If that's the number of firefighters missing, then the number of casualties (emergency workers and otherwise) is likely to rise precipitously.
posted by oheso at 4:51 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also work for a logistics company, specialising in chemicals. I've been following this all morning as you might expect. I reckon the original explosion location is here based on this image (Bing maps are actually better, see here). Live ship maps can be seen here.

News is sparse but the latest update from a shipping line is as follows...

1.TXG terminal stop all export DG cargo operation currently, it is also prohibit any operation for DG unit gate-in terminal before 13TH from 9:00 to 18:00.
2.All DG cargo warehouses stop any vanning & devanning work for import & export DG cargo.
Also received from Puhai shipping that all DG cargo are prohibit to unload in Tianjin terminal from now on
1. No damage to staff of “K” LINE China and “K” LINE Zhenhua Logistics
2. Tianjin/Xingang port re-opened at 13:00 today.
3. Terminal operation partly suspended. Impact to “K” LINE feeder vessel for Pusan only, at present.
4. No damage to laden export and empty containers stored at “K” Line’s Depot. Part of import containers are stored at off dock CY of which condition still under investigation.
5. Most of the depots are closed and roads are partly closed.
6. “K” LINE China Tianjin’s Terminal office are closed and their staff are standing by at home. Imminent duties are handled at KCH Tianjin’s City office.
7. “K” Line Zhenhua Logistics office are closed. All their staff, except on duty security staff, are standing by at home. Their own warehouse in bond area have minor damages such as breakage of window glasses. Warehouse for Yamaha also had a minor damage. Warehouse for Denso (on rent from NYK Zhenhua) reportedly got major damage to both warehouse itself and cargoes of which details are still unknown since not allowed to access to the area due to possible risk of another explosion and/or collapse of the warehouse. This might affect production line of Denso factory.


Thankfully it didn't happen in daytime or closer to the population centres, but still just awful. I think port staff and rescue workers will bear the brunt of this.

.
posted by Acey at 4:52 AM on August 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


In that drone video, at 0:23 you can see a significant number of trucks moving along the highway directly next to the still-smoldering site. Even if they're somehow emergency-related (tankers of... water, maybe? medical supplies?), what the hell is in those smoke plumes and the surrounding air there for those drivers?? If they've (wisely) pulled back all firefighters, should've the evacuation area around this be huge?
posted by argonauta at 5:05 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


All you can do is to reduce the likelihood. But you'll roll craps eventually, no matter what you do.

The rule of storing explosives is "They will explode. Eventually. Store them where they won't hurt much when they do." There's a reason that the normal place we store them is called a "bunker."

Right next to apartment complexes is pretty much the opposite of that.

And the Guardian just mentioned one of the things that might be stored is sodium cyanide. If that gets out and the wind is blowing inland, this thing just became a chemical warfare attack. I'm hoping that's wrong, or if it's right, it burns and disassociates the (CN)2, not just lofts it. Carbon and Nitrogen are harmless. Put them together like that, they are big deal bad. Thankfully, it's also big deal flammable*, so if there's fire near it and it leaks, it'll burn and how and become much less of a problem. The right answer to cyanides is burn the fuckers, always -- you get carbon, nitrogen, and whatever the heck else was bound to them, which is almost always better than what you had before. In this case, I'll take pure sodium over sodium cyanide. It only explodes it water. That's easy to deal with, in comparison, and give all the other crap around, I'm sure the sodium will bind with something. Sodium is a big pal element and wants to be your element friend!

I've finally established to my satisfaction where I think the big boom happened -- 39.040332, 117.737967. (or 39°02'25.2"N 117°44'16.7"E in old money ) The two gutted buildings near the field of cars are to the south, they're not the larger ones with the blue roofs to the SW, those aren't tall enough, but more to the south, right along the road.

I'm guessing that point by picking the epicenter of the worst damage -- but I'm guessing that off of short videos at high incident angles, but it's close to there. The drone shot with the drainage channel and highway was invaluable in finding out the exact line, because of the way that channel tapers, and because there's only one big highway in the area, the width of the channel tells you where the drone is, then you just figure out which direction the camera is looking. Do this with two-three frames and you have it locked.


* It's the second hottest flame we know of when burned with oxygen. We don't use this for welding because if you screw up with acetylene, well, annoying, you screw up with cyanogen, you die, and acetylene is more than hot enough. Plus, acetylene has enough problems.
posted by eriko at 5:33 AM on August 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


Right next to apartment complexes is pretty much the opposite of that.

I just got back from a trip to China, and in Xi'an I was very surprised to see a number of residential high-rises surrounded the smokestacks of a coal power plant. I don't have any good pictures because of the thickness of the haze, but it was definitely a shock to see, and a realization of what regulations are like there.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:37 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Guardian: New dash cam footage from a vehicle has emerged purporting to show the moment the explosions occurred. It shows people running for the cover of a security hut moments before the second blast lights up the street causing trees and lampposts to sway and setting debris flying.
posted by Acey at 6:37 AM on August 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


easily confused: "The drone footage blahblahblah cites shows how amazingly massive the destruction is, but I hate the musical accompaniment: humongous disaster with many REAL dead & injured here, and somebody felt the need to add some sort of zippy action-movie backup?!?"
Not only is in inappropriate, it also means I can't see the video in Germany due to the soundtrack being unlicensed >.<
posted by brokkr at 6:59 AM on August 13, 2015


Like showbiz_liz, Tianjin was the first big city I visited that I had never heard of. I went in 2003 and loved it. It has a diverse history, including Western presence and tensions. I still remember visiting an oceanside park there. This is heartbreaking.

Tianjin is where my ex and I had our name seals made; the man was so kind and happy to talk. (I speak some Mandarin and he liked how my name translated, thinking it a beautiful woman's name in Chinese. He made no comment on my ex's name, so.)

Photos of Tianjin

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posted by MarionnetteFilleDeChaussette at 7:06 AM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just got back from a trip to China, and in Xi'an I was very surprised to see a number of residential high-rises surrounded the smokestacks of a coal power plant. I don't have any good pictures because of the thickness of the haze, but it was definitely a shock to see, and a realization of what regulations are like there.

Yeah, this was the case when I was visiting a smaller city near Shanghai (with friends in my first month working there and the name totally escapes me). I also saw housing much closer to a nuclear plant than I considered safe or wise. And in Shanghai itself, lots of incredibly foul-smelling industry among housing, plus worker housing on the grounds of factories (which in some ways is a great idea!)

This is very, very much a straight line from colonialism, though - in the cities on the coast, that's just how it was before the revolution (without, like, nuclear power plants, though) . If you want to read something disturbing, there's some bits in Isherwood's Journey To A War about factories and labor in Shanghai in the thirties that will just totally break your heart.

I think this stuff gets framed sometimes in the West as sort of "forget about it Jake, it's China - they don't have real regulation there" and the thing is an awful lot of the bad stuff that goes on (leaving aside the stuff that's pretty much dictated by foreign business, like sweatshops) is part of what I think of as China's long 20th century - the legacy of a hundred years of struggles with poverty and crap infrastructure and corruption that were themselves handed straight on from the Nationalists and various colonial powers. (I'm no fan of the CCP, but you get a totally new window on modern Chinese history when you realize just how terrible the Nationalists actually were and how devastating the civil war was.)

Per Al Jazeera, the deaths and injuries are climbing - 50 known dead, almost 800 known injured...and 36 missing fireman.
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on August 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


14.7 million people in Tianjin. Bigger than any city in Europe.
posted by rongorongo at 7:13 AM on August 13, 2015


Sounds like they are trying to negate some cyanide leaks with hydrogen peroxide.

Pretty fucking scary, I can't even imagine what sort of nasty shit is floating around in the air. It's not like the air quality is particularly stellar in Tianjin even during the best of times.
posted by vuron at 7:18 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


The BBC has better drone footage with no zippy music.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:32 AM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, and on one of those videos there's someone repeatedly saying 'wo cao'; Countess Elena mentions way above here that she thinks it's something like 'holy shit', but I'm told (by a native Mandarin speaker) that it's more like 'aw fuck'. Take that for what you will; either would be appropriate if you're standing there filming your city blow up.
posted by easily confused at 7:55 AM on August 13, 2015


It shows people running for the cover of a security hut moments before the second blast lights up the street causing trees and lampposts to sway and setting debris flying.

3 seconds between the big flash and the shock wave -- about a kilometer away. I'm really surprised he still has a windshield, but with all the buildings there, the shockwave must have diffracted around them some.
posted by eriko at 7:56 AM on August 13, 2015


.

Slightly morbid, but maybe helpful: if you're ever near an industrial accident (fire, spill, etc.) and wonder if you should observe/film it from where you are, a good rule of thumb from the hazmat industry: hold your hand out at arm's length and try to cover up the scene with your thumb. If you can't obscure the whole thing, keep running. (It works out to almost exactly one degree, so about 60m distance per 1m width of scene.)
posted by introp at 8:09 AM on August 13, 2015 [51 favorites]


Oh, and on one of those videos there's someone repeatedly saying 'wo cao'; Countess Elena mentions way above here that she thinks it's something like 'holy shit', but I'm told (by a native Mandarin speaker) that it's more like 'aw fuck'.

When pronounced with two fourth tones like in the video, as opposed to a third and fourth tone as you would expect, it expresses more surprise than anger, and is thus closer to 'holy shit'.
posted by klue at 8:14 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


.

The footage has been pretty frightening, and I am surprised at how weak editorial work has been on the networks, as far as being careful what footage to air
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:19 AM on August 13, 2015


When pronounced with two fourth tones like in the video, as opposed to a third and fourth tone as you would expect, it expresses more surprise than anger, and is thus closer to 'holy shit'.

I'd put "aw fuck" very much in the surprise category. "Holy Shit!" can be just as much a happy surprise as a sad one. "Aw fuck" is always a bad one in my book. It's what you say just as the big rock is about to hit you.
posted by eriko at 8:43 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Introp, that doesn't work at all with petrochemicals. Stand off distances for those are in the 1-2 km ranges. I think I've posted before the story of a rail tank car being blown over the head of one of my co-workers at 1000m distance.

The damage and the images on those videos are consistent with liquid hydrocarbon explosions, both in intensity and size. Oil, gasoline or diesel or any combination of those would be likely candidates for some of the bigger blasts. There are many other things it could be too: MEK, as noted above, for example, plastic monomers (like vinyl or styrene) are another common possibility.

There's a good chance that HCN was stored in bulk (also explosive as noted), as China uses it extensively for metals mining, and this is one of the major ports in the South. The real danger there is continuing deaths and injuries while the HCN is active in the air plume (which is hours to a day or two). Thank small mercies that this didn't go into drinking or agricultural-use water like it did in Bhopal.

The biggest risks now are to the clean-up crews. The residues are short-term (days to weeks) carcinogenic at least, at least until they break-down. Inhalation risks as well. But I bet we'll see lots of folks in paper masks moving stuff by hand. Those folks I really feel for, as that's an avoidable money vs long-term disability problem.
posted by bonehead at 8:50 AM on August 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Okay, the Guardian has a different bit of drone footage that clearly shows exactly where the epicenter is. It's at 39.040013, 117.735914 (or 39°02'24.1"N 117°44'09.3"E) and you can tell because in that footage, you can see the crater. This is about, oh, 100m feet west and 30m south of where I'd marked before.

The angle of the light is very bad, but that crater looks very deep -- 15m easily, comparing it to the four story building nearby. But that's little more than a guess, and sloping debris could easily be exaggerating the shadow. But there's definitely a big hole there.

Finally, there looks to be a timestamp over the information bar -- maybe. It has a colon, at least. I however, know nothing of Chinese, if this is even Chinese. Can anyonbody translate the text?

The light itself looks very close to solar noon.
posted by eriko at 9:03 AM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


and this is one of the major ports in the South

Tianjin is in north China. Right next to Beijing, north of Shanghai, way north of Guangzhou/HK.

It is however, one of the major ports in the North?
posted by qcubed at 9:06 AM on August 13, 2015


Finally, there looks to be a timestamp over the information bar -- maybe. It has a colon, at least. I however, know nothing of Chinese, if this is even Chinese. Can anyonbody translate the text?

It's the name of the reporter. China uses Arabic numerals for time.

this is one of the major ports in the South

Tianjin is in the North.

I'd put "aw fuck" very much in the surprise category. "Holy Shit!" can be just as much a happy surprise as a sad one. "Aw fuck" is always a bad one in my book. It's what you say just as the big rock is about to hit you.

Like "fuck" in English, "wo cao" is a generic exclamation that can be used to express a wide range of emotions.
posted by bradf at 9:08 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Introp, that doesn't work at all with petrochemicals. Stand off distances for those are in the 1-2 km ranges. I think I've posted before the story of a rail tank car being blown over the head of one of my co-workers at 1000m distance.
If you're looking at a 16m railcar, the "thumb rule" clearance of that alone is 1km, so when you consider the "scene" is going to be 50+m wide, you're well outside 3k. :/
posted by introp at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2015


When I google map that, the pin is in a parking lot of containers. No factory, storage tanks, refinery, etc. which seems odd...
posted by Windopaene at 9:21 AM on August 13, 2015


Odd why? As per TFA, it's a container port. That's exactly what you would expect to find there.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:27 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not entirely clear how long ago the Google satellite imagery was taken. From the Bing maps imagery it does look like a big storage facility with just containers instead of tanks of stuff. However it's really hard to tell from the limited level of zoom possible using freely available.

But honestly based upon that last drone footage it looks like the blast radius was definitely in the 1000m to 2000m circumference range.
posted by vuron at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2015


Odd, as in: DO THEY REALLY STORE ALL THESE LIQUID EXPLOSIVE CHEMICALS IN SHIPPING CONTAINERS!?!

I would have expected different facilities for the handling and shipping and on/offloading of some of the materials discussed up thread.
posted by Windopaene at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes they do. Small volumes or retail packages are shipped this way. Think of a container full of retail propane canisters for plumbers torches. The next container over might be full of bottles of bleach and so on. There are rules about chemical compatibility and how containers can be packed, but they may not really matter in a really big fire like this, where everything will boil and release.
posted by bonehead at 11:04 AM on August 13, 2015


Windopaene: " DO THEY REALLY STORE ALL THESE LIQUID EXPLOSIVE CHEMICALS IN SHIPPING CONTAINERS!?!"

Also there are special containers that are tanks with frames for bulk shipment.
posted by Mitheral at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


reddit (yeah, yeah, I KNOW) has assembled a live feed (warning: linked photos may contain sensitive / NSFW content) that's aggregating the news links as they come in. It seems to be quite coherent and non-sensational, and appears to be sticking to what has been reported by reputable sources.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2015


.

How terrible.

I don't have a good grasp of how the quantities of goods, ships, and infrastructure destroyed in this explosion work as a proportion of global industry. Will we be seeing ripple effects from this disaster in prices elsewhere? I presume the answer is "yes" but I don't know to what extent or where the effects would be concentrated.
posted by brainwane at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2015


Yeah, eriko's got the location correct -- you can tell from that drone footage where the blast was centered. But note that on Google Maps the satellite and map data are offset from each other, so the labels on the sat map are incorrect -- labels on the sat map are about 1,200 feet to the east-northeast of where they ought to be.

What's interesting is that the blast was about 400 feet north-northwest (and across a road and shielded by a building) from the Tianjin Harbor Public Security Bureau and, probably more relevantly, just a couple hundred feet southwest of the "CWT Logistics Hub". Assuming this map data is up-to-date.

And, yeah, on that sat image there's some containers there, but it looks like there's other stuff, too, that we can't really see, maybe access to pumps of underground storage?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:12 PM on August 13, 2015


I also work in logistics but it's more of a Europe-focused country so I didn't even hear about the explosion until later last night. Even now, there's not as much talk about it as I would expect but I think that will come as the full scope of the disaster reveals itself.

DO THEY REALLY STORE ALL THESE LIQUID EXPLOSIVE CHEMICALS IN SHIPPING CONTAINERS!?!

Things that we forget are hazardous are classified as such like paint and hairspray. Steamship lines do take care in what products are shipped together by class and even quantity - some things can be stored side-by-side and some can't even be in the same container. And when it comes to air freight, there are even tighter restrictions on what can be shipped - especially for a passenger flight.

Will we be seeing ripple effects from this disaster in prices elsewhere?

If they do close or partially close the Tianjin port, they'll have to redirect that traffic to somewhere else which may cause congested seaways and roads around the other Northern ports. Earlier this year, there was a labor strike that had things at Los Angeles at a near stand-still. There were boats lined up for miles waiting to dock and in March we were clearing out shipments that were due in December. I would imagine something similar could happen here. If it does, truckers will be in high demand and their prices will skyrocket and their ports may have their own port congestion surcharges on top of all their normal fees.
posted by bgal81 at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Slightly morbid, but maybe helpful: if you're ever near an industrial accident (fire, spill, etc.) and wonder if you should observe/film it from where you are, a good rule of thumb from the hazmat industry: hold your hand out at arm's length and try to cover up the scene with your thumb. If you can't obscure the whole thing, keep running. (It works out to almost exactly one degree, so about 60m distance per 1m width of scene.)

I think I 'm going to be using the even simpler heuristic of "keep running until you can't run anymore", but thanks.
posted by thelonius at 1:21 PM on August 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think I 'm going to be using the even simpler heuristic of "keep running until you can't run anymore", but thanks.

At this scale? Running away isn't really useful. If the blast was going to get you, it's moving three orders of magnitude faster than you can run. If you're worried about what might be coming out of the smoke, brains are better than speed -- move at 90 degrees to the plume, but walk and save energy once you're clear of the plume so you can get well away in case of a wind shift.

Odd, as in: DO THEY REALLY STORE ALL THESE LIQUID EXPLOSIVE CHEMICALS IN SHIPPING CONTAINERS!

Fundamentally, almost everything ships in containers. Exceptions: New cars in big lots, which ship on roll-on/roll-off ships (individual cars ship in containers,) bulk liquid cargos ship in tankers, crude oil ships in very large tankers, bulk ore ships in dedicated ore carriers, like the iron boats on the Great Lakes, natural gas in big LNG container ships, and a few other oddballs where you're shipping a lot of the exact same thing that's either very big or not refined.

But everything else? It gets packaged, then palletized, then those pallets are put into containers, those containers move to ports and are stacked onto container ships. They've fundamentally changed how we do shipping, because the containers can move from ship to train to truck (or vice versa) without having to be offloaded -- all you need is a container crain. They have standard mounting points and are strong enough to stack several units high. So, you stack them, lock them, and away they go.
posted by eriko at 3:41 PM on August 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


The South China Morning Post has a map showing the damage radius . Looks like fairly significant damage at 1km and windows out as far as 2km.
posted by humanfont at 3:42 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think I 'm going to be using the even simpler heuristic of "keep running until you can't run anymore", but thanks.

Is 37 feet really far enough? That can be as much as 43 feet if I fall forwards instead of backwards.
posted by maxwelton at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


According to the latest update the explosion originated in a warehouse, so likely drums or IBCs if liquid. According to this site, the company involved was previously found to hold chemicals "improperly encased". Often hazardous goods are not allowed to remain on quay for long, if at all, particularly in ISOtanks but less so in standard containers. As storage tank costs have risen, receivers have demanded more and more "free time" or free storage of containers, often in depots close to the ports at the shippers' or agents' expense.

Just today I got into an argument because a customer in India was demanding extra days after a ship was delayed, which the tank operator couldn't afford, so we will lose some $700 on that. Both shippers (chemical companies) and receivers (manufacturers, mostly) are on the bones of their arse financially since the bottom fell out of the oil market, so the hauliers/tank operators/shipping agents end up taking the hit too. As a result, I can see how some disreputable depots end up with hazardous goods being stored for long periods of time, often in full desert sunlight, whilst being lax with safety so as to compete.

So basically, I'm seeing an overloaded quayside, perhaps just a single spark, and a chain reaction, as the probable cause. And, as usual, money will have played a part. The industry is pretty safety-obsessed (read: litigation-obsessed) these days, but things can and do go wrong. People lose track of containers for months (this happened). Maybe it only goes wrong one time in a million... but there are millions moving around or sitting on quaysides around the world at any one time.

I'm not sure I'll stick around this industry long enough to see if anything changes, but often things do change after events like this. It just always changes too late, much like everything else.
posted by Acey at 4:01 PM on August 13, 2015 [21 favorites]


Oh, and the latest thing to catch on is the "flexitank", essentially a bag-in-a-box. They can and do go wrong more frequently than tanks, but hey, they cost half the price to ship!
posted by Acey at 4:10 PM on August 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


Of course, litigation means nothing in China. Someone will be picked to take the fall for this. They will be executed. The chances of them being actually responsible in any way? 50%

Rules will then be followed strictly for three-four weeks. The backlog will then be intolerable. Rather than paying for the people and systems needed to safely handle these cargos at theses volumes, which would make this port uncompetitive, the rules will relax until the backlog is caught up, and everything will be fine.

Fine, that is, until the next disaster somewhere. Because it will turn out that the occasionally massive port disaster is "cheaper" than doing things safely, and cheap is all that counts because Capitalism.
posted by eriko at 4:32 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, and remember the thing that's annoyed China the most about this is the way all those images and videos got onto the Internet. You can be sure that they're really thinking "is this Internet really worth it?"
posted by eriko at 4:37 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


This thread could do with less of the finger-pointing at China stuff. There's truth to it, just as there's truth to the similar jibes at Texas in the fertilizer plant explosion, but it's facile, relies upon stereotypes, and misrepresents the relative safety of everywhere that's being contrasted against -- we think of Canada as safe, but the Lac-Mégantic disaster was horrifying, killed many people, and was totally preventable. Or the Enschede disaster in the Netherlands. These things can and do happen everywhere. Some places are more unsafe than others, but both accidents and negligence happen everywhere. Not to mention governments that care more about PR than lives.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:06 PM on August 13, 2015 [15 favorites]


eriko: "At this scale? Running away isn't really useful."

It all depends on when you start running.
posted by Mitheral at 5:17 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah the anti-Chinese statements and stereotype stuff should stop regarding the causes and possible course of investigations. China is a complicated place and we have to see how it plays out. Don't think It couldn't happen here, just because of some prejudice about China. This might be something that could of happened anywhere.
posted by humanfont at 6:59 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd put "aw fuck" very much in the surprise category. "Holy Shit!" can be just as much a happy surprise as a sad one. "Aw fuck" is always a bad one in my book. It's what you say just as the big rock is about to hit you.
To me, "aw fuck" is more disappointment or frustration: "Aw fuck, I spilled paint on the carpet!" For surprise, negative or positive, "oh fuck" sounds more appropriate to me and is much more similar to "holy shit": "Oh fuck, that's a big explosion!" or "Oh fuck, I just won the lottery!"

posted by clorox at 7:42 PM on August 13, 2015


Y'all are overthinking this plate of wo cao and the right rendering in English is obviously [pam] Holy shitsnacks! [/pam].
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:33 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread could do with less of the finger-pointing at China stuff. There's truth to it, just as there's truth to the similar jibes at Texas in the fertilizer plant explosion, but it's facile, relies upon stereotypes, and misrepresents the relative safety of everywhere that's being contrasted against -- we think of Canada as safe, but the Lac-Mégantic disaster was horrifying, killed many people, and was totally preventable. Or the Enschede disaster in the Netherlands. These things can and do happen everywhere. Some places are more unsafe than others, but both accidents and negligence happen everywhere. Not to mention governments that care more about PR than lives.

Yeah the anti-Chinese statements and stereotype stuff should stop regarding the causes and possible course of investigations. China is a complicated place and we have to see how it plays out. Don't think It couldn't happen here, just because of some prejudice about China. This might be something that could of happened anywhere.

I don't think that worrying about the safety standards of storage of hazardous materials, in one of the busiest ports, in a country that is known to have kinda lax safety regulations, after a massive chemical or possible munitions explosion that killed or injured hundreds if not thousands that seems like maybe something was in a warehouse that they didn't know was there, surrounded by civilian housing implies some prejudice, I think it implies paying attention to anything. This can happen anywhere else, but it didn't. It happened in a place we know from past evidence plays it fast and loose with safety standards from time to time. I wouldn't blame China, I'd blame the global capitalism that puts human safety anywhere at a lower value than profit. I think eriko says it right with:

Rules will then be followed strictly for three-four weeks. The backlog will then be intolerable. Rather than paying for the people and systems needed to safely handle these cargos at theses volumes, which would make this port uncompetitive, the rules will relax until the backlog is caught up, and everything will be fine.

Nothing is going to happen to make sure this never happens again because the money that flows through there and that makes the decisions isn't from Tianjin, it's from all sorts of international firms who really don't give a shit about dead chinese people, at least not when it means a shipment is late. I'm pissed that making sure stuff is cheaper for me might have been a part of why this would happen.
One can think of China as a place with a fucking horrible transparency issue (and seriously, it is. That's not deniable. They are super serious about acting like Tienanmen square happened and making sure no one can even talk about it.) while still thinking that the West also has bad transparency issues. My country doesn't have to be perfect for me to notice someone else's is worse, I can want things to be better for them because I care about people instead of being racist towards them, and I can hate global capitalism anywhere it might pop up.
posted by neonrev at 10:34 PM on August 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


"Rising Anger But Few Answers After Explosions in Tianjin", or as the person I got this link from put it, "China's gonna China."
posted by sparkletone at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


By far the clearest video of the explosions I've seen (stabilized version), from an apartment building just a few miles away. The reactions of the people in the room are telling.

They catch it at the beginning, with a fireball you'd expect to see in a gas station fire. You hear a few mildly interested comments.

Then there's a MUCH larger explosion, dwarfing the nearby apartment towers. Cue awestruck swearing and bouts of amazed laughter.

Then the UTTERLY COLOSSAL explosion. Total silence. And then they all hightail it the fuck out of there.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


Rhaomi, the shock wave hit four seconds after the big explosion. They were less than a mile away. I'm amazed the window didn't shatter.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:28 PM on August 14, 2015


The Big Picture's post of photos of the explosions and the aftermath.
posted by sparkletone at 5:50 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sparkletone, that's a chilling series. This photo states it's a hubcap that melted— but it looks like the thickness of the section and the residue on the ground point toward it being a melted aluminum alloy wheel. Which means that at least some part of that car hit about 1200 F.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:17 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


CCTV posted this video to their Twitter feed showing a massive crater at the center of the explosion.
posted by humanfont at 9:55 PM on August 14, 2015


Jesus, more explosions. State media says some cars blew up.
posted by sparkletone at 10:35 PM on August 14, 2015


a halcyon day: "Which means that at least some part of that car hit about 1200 F."

From the damage pattern burning debris probably ignited the tire which melted the rim.
posted by Mitheral at 10:52 PM on August 14, 2015


Jesus, more explosions. State media says some cars blew up.

I'm beginning to think the Party is having trouble controlling their shuggoths.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


mostly the BBC has the most informative articles. In the UK it's the lead or 2nd item
posted by maiamaia at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


NB in China skyscrapers are far higher and wider, so contain thousands more poeple, than in the West, so when you see the towerblock in the video foreground, it could easily be 100 or even 200? storeys high (i lost count with the biggest)
posted by maiamaia at 2:49 PM on August 15, 2015


Jesus Rhaomi, it seems so much bigger than it did in the other videos in that one. I know they're all from various distances, but that one is so clear and really captures the scale.

It really makes me feel like they're massaging the numbers as to the official size of the explosion, because that's HUGE.
posted by emptythought at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2015


maiamaia: "than in the West, so when you see the towerblock in the video foreground, it could easily be 100 or even 200? storeys high"

The princess tower in Dubai (2nd highest residential tower in the world) is 101 stories. The highest building in the world (Burj Khalifa) is "only" 163 stories and there are only a half dozen towers of any use over 110 stories. 11 buildings are 100 stories or more, six in China.
posted by Mitheral at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


By far the clearest video of the explosions I've seen (stabilized version ), from an apartment building just a few miles away. The reactions of the people in the room are telling.

That is so huge it's hard to even believe it's real. Jesus.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:09 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


According to Reuters over 100 tons of sodium cyanide may have been stored at the blast site. Any rainfall in the near future could create a huge cloud of posion gas at which point many people will be at the mercy of the winds.
posted by humanfont at 3:07 PM on August 16, 2015


Sodium Cyanide confirmed to have been found around the blast site, residents in a 3km radius are being evacuated.

When burned or dissolved, it produces Hydrogen cyanide, which is notable for being the active agent in Zyklon B, the gas used in the gas chambers during the holocaust.

This is extra scary, as this chemical was in a building that was on fire, then sprayed with water, which then exploded. If those firefighters hadn't been effectively vaporized by the explosion, they'd have almost certainly been poisoned, and death by hydrogen cyanide inhalation is generally pretty quick.
The real scary thing is that some amount (who knows?) of sodium cyanide dust is still drifting around in the air, and as humanfront says, a good rainstorm is going to take that (toxic, but as I understand it, not generally an immediate inhalation risk at the levels it would exist at in normal air.) and turn it into an extremely toxic gas that kills within seconds.
All anyone can do now is wait to see which way the wind blows, and what's blowing in it.
posted by neonrev at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is raining, and the precipitation is making a foam in the streets.
posted by humanfont at 8:08 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


All anyone can do now is wait to see which way the wind blows, and what's blowing in it.

Well, at least South Korea has plenty of advanced technology to figure that out.
posted by qcubed at 8:43 PM on August 18, 2015


“He Xiaoxin: How Far Can I Go? How Much Can I Do?” Sophie Beach, China Digital Times, 15 August 2015
Journalist He Xiaoxin (和小欣) of The Beijing Daily (北京日报) traveled to report from the scene of the massive explosion in a chemical warehouse at the Tianjin port, in which 112 people have been reported killed so far. Dramatic photos and videos of the explosion traveled quickly around the world via the Internet. But in this photo essay, He provides an up-close, personal look at the devastation. Propaganda officials have since banned media from reporting on the explosion or posting stories that did not originate from Xinhua[.]
posted by ob1quixote at 2:09 AM on August 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


ob1quixote, that is an amazing story. I hope He isn't jailed for breaking the Xinhua-only embargo.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2015


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