TIANJIN, China (CNN) – Days after a terrifying series of explosions in a major Chinese port city, authorities are scrambling to find answers for what happened and to identify the chemicals involved.
In the face of protests, President Xi Jinping has called for improvements in workplace safety. Meanwhile, on the ground in Tianjin authorities announced that one of chemicals stored in the facility which sparked the fire and explosions is sodium cyanide, a highly toxic chemical.
With terrifying force, the fireballs sent shockwaves through Tianjin leaving massive destruction, piles of debris, and something else. Small mounds of unknown chemicals.
Emitting heat and what looks like steam when exposed to water. Raising fears of what could happen when it rains.
“We’re not going to move back until we are sure it’s safe. Because there are so many kids in there,” said Shi Wen Jing, a homeowner.
Shi Wen Jing is one of thousands of blast zone homeowners now homeless. Families and the government don’t know the full list of toxins propelled through this bustling Chinese port city.
Will Ripley: “Do you feel safe going back home?”
“No, no. The chemical stuff is all over. It was like fireworks. Exploding, flying everywhere. Some parts might fall into our yards, our homes,” said Jing.
More than two thousand Chinese soldiers and hundreds of biochemical experts are working to neutralize the threat. Searching up to three kilometers from the immediate blast area. Taking air, soil and water samples.
These stray chemicals sitting in an unsecured area less than a kilometer from the blast zone.
Will Ripley: “Do you know what this is? Do you know if it poses a danger to anybody?”
Bao Jing Ling, Tianjin’s chief environmental officer tells CNN, ‘Searchers have not yet entered residential areas due to safety concerns about broken glass.’ He says they’ll ‘begin searching those areas if needed.’
Will Ripley: “Chemical expert says it’s impossible to know exactly what this is, or what if any danger it poses without further testing. But we do know it’s scattered quite a bit around here, next to thousands of homes.”
Zhao Hui Jun owns an apartment under construction next door. He takes CNN through the dark, ravaged building he was supposed to move into in less than two months. He wonders if it’ll ever be safe.
‘After the explosion,’ Zhao says, ‘I worry about the pollution, the water and soil, the whole structure of these buildings.’
Like most Chinese homeowners, Zhao and his family saved for years to buy an apartment. Unaware it was sitting near a hazardous chemical warehouse.
Now, the focus of a criminal investigation by China’s highest prosecuting authority.
‘Are the officials corrupt or what,’ asks homeowner Luo Shuhui. She and others are demanding the Chinese government buy back their apartments. Afraid of living next to what they call ‘a ticking time bomb.’
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