back to article Huge explosion kills 44+ in China, blasts nearby supercomputer offline

China is today trying to determine the cause of extensive explosions in the port city of Tianjin that have left at least 44 dead and hundreds injured. State news organ Xinhua reports that a warehouse operated by a company that specialises in dangerous goods, such as chemicals and explosives, blew up on Wednesday night. The …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I find it interesting that the owner of the warehouse has been "controlled" (per El Reg) or "detained" (per Xinhua). I'm guessing there's also going to be a few city officials also "controlled" for this. Here in the States, lots of fingers would be pointed but no one ends up on police custody.

    I just can't imagine storing what appears to be explosives/chemicals going off in the middle of a city.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Mark 85

      Hmm. I think Xinhua has changed its wording. Either way, I've tweaked the article to match the news agency. May have been a translation error.

      C.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Mark 85

        They may have. Reading elsewhere, I'm seeing the "controlled" or "detained". I suspect means a "re-education camp" in someone's future.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Talk about risky locations..

      I just can't imagine storing what appears to be explosives/chemicals going off in the middle of a city.

      Try manufacturing and storing cyanide within 5 km of a built up area with lots of people, and the plant is far from accident free (nor is it the only risk that the cluster of plants poses to the population ). What's more, the frequency of incidents is currently increasing with the population given the mushroom treatment (it takes typically 12h or more before the company deigns to vaguely inform its neighbours about what is going on).

      Just in case you think this is in a 3rd world country: this is in the South of the Netherlands.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Talk about risky locations..

        Just in case you think this is in a 3rd world country: this is in the South of the Netherlands.

        There's a 100 year old chemical factory near here which is classed as a "Seveso" risk. It used to explode frequently, seems to have quietened down recently. One of the more entertaining local catastrophe scenarios concerns a nearby 'rotten' cliff face, if it should crumble into the valley (which could happen any time) it will dam a river. Depending on the river flow, the build-up of water will take about 24-48 hours to reach the point that the dam rubble gives way, at which point the resulting flood sweeps chemical factory and noxious contents into the nearby city.

        They're diverting and protecting the river, so work is being done to improve the situation, but it's taken 20+ years to get there. This isn't 3rd-world either, it's in SE France.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: Talk about risky locations..

          You shouldn't even think about what is in the various tankers on the roads in the UK (or any other developed country). Liquid Chlorine gas (as used as a weapon in WW1) is only halfway up the hazard scale.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Talk about risky locations..

            You shouldn't even think about what is in the various tankers on the roads in the UK (or any other developed country)

            We built a BCM test scenario once for a retailer whose premises were adjacent to a curve in a motorway. We'd assumed a heart attack of a driver of a tanker filled with both petrol and diesel and extrapolated from there. It proved the scenario planning and workbooks worked, but we scared the living cr*p out of the team we were training..

            1. x 7

              Re: Talk about risky locations..

              many years ago one christmas the company I worked for had a real-life experience of a lorry load (around 25 tonnes) of water reactive oxalyl chloride ending up in the Thames at Maidenhead.....

              when the fire crew phoned for advice the conversation was on the lines of

              "Is this water reactive?"

              "Yes"

              "How can we tell if it starts reacting with the water?"

              "When it explodes. There won't be a warning"

              The fire crew sensibly declined the risk of pulling the barrels out of the river.

              In the end, someone leant on the Atomic Energy Authority emergency team at Harwell, and their radiation emergency remote handling equipment was used to lift the trailer and drums out. Happily with no leaks or explosions.

              That was a real ass-twitching day

              Not long after that, Harwell set up the National Chemical Emergency scheme to provide a response team in the event of future similar events.

              1. Steve Evans

                Re: Talk about risky locations..

                Canvey Island wouldn't last long if all the gas storage went up... Although TBH, I'd be more worried about the other side of the river and the North Coast of Kent...

                Only 1500 tons of high explosive, sitting in the river and too unstable to dare do anything with!

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Richard_Montgomery

                1. Mark 85 Silver badge

                  Re: Talk about risky locations..

                  There was also the Houston explosion but that wasn't a warehouse...

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_City_disaster

                2. Vic

                  Re: Talk about risky locations..

                  Canvey Island wouldn't last long if all the gas storage went up

                  I live within site of the Fawley Refinery. It's generally considered that if that went up, we wouldn't know much about it...

                  Vic.

          2. TeeCee Gold badge
            Alert

            Re: Talk about risky locations..

            A mate worked in SoS semiconductor research, back in the eighties. They used to get Oleum shipped in in glass-lined tankers which they would then dilute as required to etch wafers in the research facility. They lost one of those in a motorway smash once.......(!)

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Talk about risky locations..

          Depending on the river flow, the build-up of water will take about 24-48 hours to reach the point that the dam rubble gives way, at which point the resulting flood sweeps chemical factory and noxious contents into the nearby city.

          CALVIN STOP PLAYING

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Talk about risky locations..

        "Just in case you think this is in a 3rd world country: this is in the South of the Netherlands."

        ISTR an explosives depot (fireworks warehouse) located in a residential area going boom in the Netherlands within the last 15 years.

        There's a good reason many operations (not just HE manufacture/storage) should be well-away from residences and surrounded by berms to divert shockwaves upwards, but this routinely gets ignored by companies and planners alike in europe(*), let alone other parts of the world which are more cavalier about safety standards.

        (*) EG: Oil depots. I was a little surprised when first I moved to the UK and noticed noticed that none of the major storage depots have containment berms.

        1. Turtle

          Re: Talk about risky locations..

          "There's a good reason many operations should be well-away from residences... but this routinely gets ignored by companies and planners alike in europe, let alone other parts of the world which are more cavalier about safety standards."

          If I correctly recall, one of the factors involved in the Bhopal Catastrophe was that the plant was built in a safe (i.e. non-populated) area that later became populated - a shanty town grew up around the plant.

          1. x 7

            Re: Talk about risky locations..

            planners never listen...........one chemical site I worked at stored around 18,000 different chemicals and carried out a wide range of hazardous reaction (on a relatively small scale, up to around 500-1000 litres).

            The plant was deliberately sited on an industrial estate with nothing much else close. And then the council in its wisdom allowed a field to be used for housing....and more housing. We complained, pointing out the risk - but were totally ignored. Then eventually one day the inevitable happened. I'd left the company by then, but one morning I woke up and there was the plume of smoke towering into the sky.......one of the stores had caught fire, taking the plant and drum storage with it. Drums were bouncing into the air and exploding, the building was an inferno. All the fire brigade could do was bund the site and pour (and recycle) water on it. Something like 20 fire pumps were in attendance.

            When all had died down and people allowed to return home (~48 hours later) the questions in the press and council were all on the lines of "how were they allowed to build that so close to houses". Everyone ignored the fact - WE WERE THERE FIRST!!!!!

            Needless to say, rebuilding was out of the question, and the council applied extreme pressure to get the other production units removed from the estate.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Talk about risky locations..

          (*) EG: Oil depots. I was a little surprised when first I moved to the UK and noticed noticed that none of the major storage depots have containment berms.

          They should do. I thought that was a requirement.

          It was actually the cause of the Buncefield explosion a few years ago. So loud that I heard it 50 miles away - and went downstairs to see if my telly had exploded (as it made a louder version of that noise you got when you hit the degauss button).

          There was a weird combination of events, where the main and back-up float valves/switches in a stororage tank that was being filled had failed. Petrol continued to flow in, but obviously started coming out of the overflow. But the temperature was just a few degrees, and so it started to form a cloud of cold vapour. This vapour was heavier than air, and so started to collect in a huge massively explosive mixture inside the berm. There's a reason that it's illegal to store gas in a bunded area.

          I don't recall if they found out what caused the spark, but the vapour cloud had built up for several hours, and I believe it was called the largest peacetime explosion in Europe.

    3. Nigel 11

      I just can't imagine storing what appears to be explosives/chemicals going off in the middle of a city.

      Um. Ever considered moving to Portsmouth? (Though I certainly trust the Royal navy a lot more than some random Chinese import-export company).

  2. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Xinhua also writes that executives of the company whose warehouses went up “have been controlled.”

    That sounds ominous

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Efforts to search the premises and treat the injured are a priority

    Should be "search for the premises"?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    See the sign, it says no smok......

    1. Peter Simpson 1

      A WAREHOUSE...full of EXPLOSIVES? Who the hell thought THAT was a good idea?

      Sounds a bit silly -- explosives companies are usually pretty careful about how they store their product, being aware of its capabilities.

      Usually...but not always:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Fertilizer_Company_explosion

      Perhaps it was a warehouse of ammonium nitrate fertilizer? I don't understand why you would be storing that amount of explosives at a port (unless, of course, you were the military).

  5. Putters

    Mark85 "I just can't imagine storing what appears to be explosives/chemicals going off in the middle of a city."

    Anything they can do we can do first - including stupidly purifying explosives in a major built up area.

    http://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2012/03/25/the-memorial-to-londons-largest-ever-explosion/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvertown_explosion

    1. Nigel 11

      As for shipping explosives ... ask someone in Halifax (Canada). Ok, this was in wartime, though not anywhere near a battleground. Possibly the largest non-nuclear explosion ever.

      http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2008/11/kaboom-worlds-biggest-non-nuclear.html

      There was also an incident when a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate fertilizer had a leaky roof, and the whole contents became one solid mass. Some soon-to-be-deceased genius had the bright idea of loosening it up using a few sticks of dynamite.

      1. PhilBuk

        That would be the German BASF plant.

  6. cjrcl

    About a thousand of Benz, BMW got damaged too.

    Maybe containers of iPhones that is made in china due to export were busted.

  7. Nigel 11

    Back to the supercomputer ...

    I do hope that there wasn't a huge on-site data-store with no remote backup. I heard the sad story of a server close to Buncefield. The explosion there ripped half the disk drives out of their enclosures, and the pressure wave killed most of the others that weren't actually dumped onto the floor while still spinning.

    (The concept of no backup may seem strange to non-scientists, but there are many classes of problem where you generate such vast amounts of data you cannot afford even redundant storage let alone the bandwidth to a remote site for continuous data-churning. In the worst case you re-run the calculations, but the loss still hurts and the usual assumption is that you'll lose a disk or an array, not the entire data-store! )

    1. gaz 7

      Re: Back to the supercomputer ...

      At the time of Buncefield our main hardware supplier & support company had their head office & main compute facility completely trashed as they were next to the perimeter fence.

      I was told that the backups had been taken but tapes were waiting for the courier to take them off site at the time.

      Some of the photos I saw of the devastation of the by engineers we knew who were drafted in for the DR effort were almost unimaginable.

      1. Clive Harris
        Mushroom

        Re: Buncefield

        Quite a few years ago I worked right next-door to Buncefield (Crosfield Electronics). Every morning I would drive to work down a road lined on both sides with enormous fuel tanks. I remember one day, looking out of the office window at the sea of tanks below, and remarking to a colleague that I wouldn't want to be here if that lot ever went up.

        Fortunately, when it did go up, it was a Sunday morning, no-one was around, and I'd long since emigrated to Australia.

  8. chr0m4t1c

    I need to get out more

    Was I the only one to think "Praxis!" when I first heard of this?

  9. x 7

    from the Guardian's website, quoting Greenpeace.

    “According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, hazardous chemicals stored by the company concerned include sodium cyanide (NaCN), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and calcium carbide (CaC2), all of which pose direct threats to human health on contact."

    If the quantities involved are significant then you have a major environmental disaster occurring.

    Sodium cyanide is extremely toxic, while TDI is also toxic. If either are released to ground then you have a total nightmare trying to do any cleanup. As for the calcium carbide, that reacts with water to produce acetylene gas - making firefighting very risky. All you can really do with large quantities is sit back and let it burn, maybe with water screens to prevent spread of the fire.

    Looking at the videos and pictures, given present knowledge you'd have to assume that the entire blast area is contaminated. The implication is that all those damaged buildings and containers will have to be treated as hazardous waste and safely buried or burnt.As also will the contaminated soil. China doesn't have the technical capacity to do that

    1. Nigel 11

      Actually, NaCN will complex with Fe ions to make nice stable Ferricyanates which have pretty low toxicity. There's a lot of iron around in the environment, and you can always add more if you need to. Cyanide is also not a cumulative toxin - if you don't ingest enough to kill you in the next few hours, you're OK for the rest of your life. So NaCN is probably the least of their worries.

      Acetylene gas from CaC2 getting wet would account for the violence of the explosions ... but neither Acetylene gas nor Calcium salts present any long-term environmental hazard.

      Not sure about TDI, and you have to wonder what else got blown up ....

      1. x 7

        makes you wonder if thats what caused the explosion.........incorrect firefighting techniques spraying water onto an existing fire and getting the carbide wet. We know that some fire crews were on site when the explosions happened - did they trigger that explosion themselves due to bad training - or lack of information regarding the risks?

        Total speculation on my part and no insult to the crews intended

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "China doesn't have the technical capacity to do that"

      They more than likely do - and if they don't, they'll buy it in. As many have pointed out, this kind of thing isn't exactly a unique occurance so experience in cleanup exists already.

      With any luck this will lead to improved HSE legislation in the Middle Kingdom.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    when you invent gunpowder, this is what happens.

    HSE on route.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    the shock wave at 0:28 seconds

    ouch.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: the shock wave at 0:28 seconds

      I'd say anyone witnessing that fire-cloud and not ducking _instantly_ as far away from any windows as possible hasn't been watching any Discovery shows and/or is angling for a Darwin Award...

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