China defends initial response to chemical fires after port blasts

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China on Friday defended firefighters who initially hosed water on a blaze in a warehouse storing volatile chemicals, a response foreign experts said could have contributed to two huge blasts that killed 56 people.

At least 21 firefighters were among the victims of the explosions at the port in the northeastern city of Tianjin on Wednesday night, the official Xinhua news agency said, calling it possibly the highest death toll among fire crews since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

About 720 people were injured, 25 critically with 33 in serious condition, in a nation all too familiar with industrial disasters.

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China defends initial response to chemical fires after port blasts
Smoke continues to billow from behind rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on August 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers work at the site of the explosions in Tianjin on August 14, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported on August 13, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Shipping containers sit piled up next to a badly damaged building on the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on August 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, a man walks through the site of an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality. Rescuers have pulled a survivor from an industrial zone about 32 hours after it was devastated by huge blasts in China’s Tianjin port. Meanwhile, authorities are moving gingerly forward in dealing with a fire still smoldering amid potentially dangerous chemicals. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A woman organizes lists of missing people at a refugee center for residents unable to return their homes devastated by the shockwave of Wednesday's explosion in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Rescuers pulled out a firefighter trapped for 32 hours after responding to a fire and huge explosions in the Chinese port city as authorities dealt Friday with a fire still smoldering amid potentially dangerous chemicals. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man (C) surveys the damage on the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on August 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris litters an empty street adjacent to the site the second morning after where a series of explosions hit a chemical warehouse in the city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on August 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Burnt out Volkswagen cars are pictured amongst the damage on the second morning after a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse hit the city of Tianjin, in northern China on August 14, 2015. A Chinese military team of nuclear and chemical experts began work on August 14 at the site of two massive explosions in the city of Tianjin, state media said, as pressure grows for authorities to explain the cause of blasts that left 50 dead. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTION Rescuers (C) work at the site of an explosion in Tianjin on August 14, 2015. Chinese authorities struggled to extinguish fires and identify dangerous chemicals at a devastated industrial site, two days after giant explosions killed dozens and left residents in fear of being cloaked in a toxic cloud. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse tends to a man at a hospital receiving victims of Wednesday's massive explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Rescuers pulled out a firefighter trapped for 32 hours after responding to a fire and huge explosions in the Chinese port city as authorities dealt Friday with a fire still smoldering amid potentially dangerous chemicals. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, a man walks past the charred remains of new cars at a parking lot near the site of an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality. Rescuers have pulled a survivor from an industrial zone about 32 hours after it was devastated by huge blasts in China’s Tianjin port. Meanwhile, authorities are moving gingerly forward in dealing with a fire still smoldering amid potentially dangerous chemicals. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
In this combination of Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, images taken from video provided by Dan Van Duren a warehouse explodes in Tianjin, China, as filmed from a nearby residential building. Tianjin is the world's 10th largest port. (Dan Van Duren via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
In this combination of Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, images taken from video provided by Dan Van Duren a warehouse explodes in Tianjin, China, as filmed from a nearby residential building. Tianjin is the world's 10th largest port. (Dan Van Duren via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Fire and smoke are seen after explosions at a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by Tong Yu/CNSPHOTO/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) (EDITORS NOTE: Image is highest resolution available.) Fire and smoke are seen after explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 12, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Fire and smoke rise from the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) A woman recieves treatment at Teda Hospital following the explosions of a warehouse on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by Tong Yu/CNSPHOTO/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Construction workers nearby the spot of Wednesday explosions evacuate a place on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
An injured worker (L) walks out with colleagues from the area near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Rows of burnt out Volkswagen cars are seen near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) People stay at a primary school set as the emergency evacuation after the Wednesday explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
An injured man walks out with other residents from an area near the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) A child sleeps on the playground at a primary school set as the emergency evacuation after the Wednesday explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
A damaged warehouse is seen at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin on August 13, 2015. A series of enormous explosions at an industrial area in the Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 44 people and injured hundreds, state media reported August 13, unleashing a fireball that ripped through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) A residential building nearby the explosions are damaged on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
A man takes a photo near a burnt drum that residents said flew from a nearby explosion seen in the background in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge explosions sparked overnight at a warehouse for dangerous materials in the northeastern Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 13 people, injured hundreds and sent massive fireballs into the night sky, officials and state media outlets said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Rows of cars are burnt following the explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) (EDITORS NOTE: Image is highest resolution available.) Fire and smoke are seen after explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 12, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Flames rise as a banner in the background reads 'no illegal operations' at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames rise next to a damaged building at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames rise next to damaged buildings at the site of an explosion in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Cars are burnt in the debris following the explosions of a warehouse in Binhai New Area on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Two men look at broken windows in a building near the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. Enormous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Damaged containers lie in a canal as smoke billows from the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse killed 13 people, state media reported August 13. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wears a mask as he visits an area damaged by an explosion in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Two women sleep on the road outside a damaged residential building near the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. E normous explosions in a major Chinese port city killed at least 44 people and injured more than 500, state media reported, leaving a devastated industrial landscape of incinerated cars, toppled shipping containers and burnt-out buildings. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
TIANJIN, CHINA - AUGUST 13: (CHINA OUT) Construction workers nearby the spot of Wednesday explosions evacuate a place on August 13, 2015 in Tianjin, China. At least 17 people dead, 32 are in critical condition and at least another 400 injured during the explosions of a warehouse on late Wednesday in Binhai New Area in Tianjin, according to police authority. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
A man with his wounds bandaged eats a bun in a hospital receiving victims of an explosion in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge explosions in the warehouse district sent up massive fireballs that turned the night sky into day in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, officials and witnesses said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man takes photos of damaged containers at the site of an explosion in Tianjin, northern China, on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 13 people, state media reported on August 13, as witnesses described a fireball produced by the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke billows behind rows of burnt out cars at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin, northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Fires burn at the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse killed 13 people, state media reported August 13. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
Two men walk past damaged containers at the site of an explosion in Tianjin, in northern China on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse killed 13 people, state media reported August 13. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured man walks out of a hospital catering to victims of an explosion in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge explosions sparked overnight at a warehouse for dangerous materials in the northeastern Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 13 people, injured hundreds and sent massive fireballs into the night sky, officials and state media outlets said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
An injuried man stands by an ambulance outside a hospital following a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured survivor is brought to a hospital following an explosion in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A hospital worker and a resident push what appears to be a lifeless body into a hospital in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man crying about the death of his son collapses outside a hospital receiving victims of explosions in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Security guards and a resident push what appears to be a lifeless body into a hospital in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Huge explosions sparked overnight at a warehouse for dangerous materials in the northeastern Chinese port of Tianjin killed at least 13 people, injured hundreds and sent massive fireballs into the night sky, officials and state media outlets said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
An official wearing a mask stands by a police car at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
The burnt wreckage of a car is seen as flames rise in the background at the site of a series of explosions in Tianjin early on August 13, 2015. A series of massive explosions at a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin killed 17 people, state media reported August 13, as witnesses described a fireball from the blasts ripping through the night sky. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE This photo taken with a mobile phone on August 12, 2015 shows people taking shelter on a street after a huge explosion in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. At least 50 people were wounded on August 12 by a huge explosion of inflammable material stored in a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin, state media reported. The official Xinhua news agency said the blast happened at around 11:30 pm (1630 GMT), when a deafening bang was heard and plumes of flame lit up the night sky, scattering dust dozens of metres into the air. AFP PHOTO -- CHINA OUT -- (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE This photo taken with a mobile phone on August 12, 2015 shows people taking shelter on a street after a huge explosion in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. At least 50 people were wounded on August 12 by a huge explosion of inflammable material stored in a warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin, state media reported. The official Xinhua news agency said the blast happened at around 11:30 pm (1630 GMT), when a deafening bang was heard and plumes of flame lit up the night sky, scattering dust dozens of metres into the air. AFP PHOTO -- CHINA OUT -- (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency smoke and fire rises after an explosion in the Binhai New Area in north China's Tianjin Municipality on Thursday Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday. (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua via AP) 

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency smoke and fire erupt into the night sky after an explosion in the Binhai New Area in north China's Tianjin Municipality on Thursday Aug. 13, 2015. Chinese state media reported huge explosions at the Tianjin port late Wednesday with large numbers of people reported injured. (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua via AP) 

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Tianjin Binhai New Area exploded. suspected to be a gas station http://t.co/ko7cEsCGmO
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Columns of smoke from fires still burning on Friday rose from the site amid crumpled shipping containers, thousands of torched cars and burnt-out shells of port buildings.

Rescuers pulled one survivor from the wreckage, later identified as a fire fighter, a city official told reporters.

The warehouse, designed to house dangerous and toxic chemicals, was storing mainly ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium carbide at the time, according to police. Xinhua has said several containers in the warehouse caught fire before the explosions.

The State Council, China's cabinet, said a nationwide inspection of dangerous chemicals and explosives would be launched in response to the disaster, along with a crackdown on illegal activities to strengthen industry safety.

"The disastrous explosions at the ... hazardous materials warehouse at Tianjin caused huge loss of life and injuries, economic damages and social impact," the State Council work safety commission said on its website.

"The lessons are extremely profound."

Chemical safety experts said calcium carbide reacts with water to create acetylene, a highly explosive gas. An explosion could be caused if fire fighters sprayed the calcium carbide with water, they said.

Lei Jinde, the deputy propaganda department head of China's fire department, a part of the Ministry of Public Security, told state-backed news website ThePaper.cn that the first group of fire fighters on the scene had used water.

"We knew there was calcium carbide inside but we didn't know whether it had already exploded," he said.

"At that point no one knew, it wasn't that the firefighters were stupid," Lei said, adding that it was a large warehouse and they didn't know the exact location of the calcium carbide.

FIRE FIGHTERS STILL MISSING

CCTV reported that 13 fire fighters were still missing. Xinhua said earlier that 66 firefighters were among the hundreds of people hospitalized.

David Leggett, a chemical safety expert based in California, told Reuters the acetylene explosion could have detonated the ammonium nitrate. The two blasts were about 30 seconds apart, the second much larger than the first.

"In my mind, the presence of ammonium nitrate makes it easier to explain the level of devastation," he said.

Stuart Prescott, a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said water was recommended to extinguish the two nitrates but a chemical powder was needed for calcium carbide.

The explosions at the world's 10th largest port were so big they were seen by satellites in space and registered on earthquake sensors.

Biochemical specialists said on state TV they were waiting for workers to clear a road into the site so they could begin assessing chemical contamination.

Several thousand residents were moved to 10 schools after apartment buildings and homes were damaged.

Foreign companies were assessing damage to facilities in and around the port, a gateway to northeast China, which accounts for about 40 percent of China's imported cars, Xinhua reported.

French carmaker Renault (RENA.PA) said its warehouse at the port sustained severe damage and an early estimate showed nearly 1,500 of its cars there were burned. Japan's Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said more than 50 of its employees had been injured.

Mining giant BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) said its port operations and shipments were disrupted but its iron ore discharging berth had not been damaged. Oil tanker arrivals and departures were also disrupted. U.S. farm and construction equipment maker John Deere & Co (DE.N) said several workers were injured, some critically.

Swiss logistics firm Panalpina (PWTN.S) said it was looking into whether exports from China could be funneled through the ports of Qingdao or Dalian as shipments through Tianjin may be disrupted for a week or longer.

PACKAGING VIOLATIONS

Xinhua identified the owner of the warehouse as Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics and the China Daily newspaper said its manager had been detained.

The Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration said in a report in January 2014 a safety inspection two years ago found several cases where the company had violated packaging standards.

The company said on its website it was a government-approved firm specializing in handling "dangerous goods". Phone numbers listed on the site were disconnected and an email went unanswered.

Industrial accidents are not uncommon in China following three decades of fast growth. A blast at an auto parts factory killed 75 people a year ago.

The blasts sent shockwaves through apartment blocks kilometers away in the city of 15 million people. They shattered windows in buildings and cars and knocked down walls in a 2-km radius.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell in TIANJIN, Kazunori Takada, Chen Yixin, Brenda Goh and Sue-Lin Wong in SHANGHAI, Michael Martina, Jason Subler, Sui-Lee Wee and Judy Hua in BEIJING, Matt Siegel in SYDNEY, Michael Pell in NEW YORK, Maki Shiraki in TOKYO, Rupert Pretterklieber in ZURICH and Meredith Davis in CHICAGO; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Ian Geoghegan)

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