Tianjin blasts: What we know so far

Story highlights

  • Exact cause of explosion is still not known
  • Warehouse contained a mix of dangerous chemicals
  • 17,000 homes have been damaged and residents want compensation
  • China's response to the disaster has been criticized

(CNN)More than a week after massive explosions at a warehouse in the port city of Tianjin, Chinese authorities are struggling to contain toxic chemicals within the disaster zone.

The disaster killed more than 100 people, with dozens still missing but just what caused the blasts still isn't known.

    Mix of factors

    What is known is that the Tianjin warehouse owned by the Rui Hai International Logistics company contained several hundred tons of dangerous chemicals.
    Chinese officials have admitted that the storage facility held 700 tons of sodium cyanide plus potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, metallic sodium and magnesium.
    Hazmat crews struggle with toxic cleanup in Tianjin, China
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    The explosion propelled barrels of these chemicals hundreds of meters from the blast site.
    And these toxic chemicals are now creating potential environmental hazards for the city and are a source of deep concern for local residents.

    How are residents coping?

    Around 17,000 homes surrounding the warehouse zone have been damaged and more than 170 companies are reported to be affected by the blast. In addition, 3,000 cars have been destroyed.
    Thousands of people whose homes were damaged by the explosions' shock waves took shelter in nearby schools and apartment compounds in the days afterward.
    Many are demanding compensation.
    Residents demand compensation after China blast
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    The presence Thursday of thousands of dead fish lining the shores of a local river has stoked fears that contamination has spread outside the blast zone.
    However, state news agency Xinhua reported that no toxic levels of cyanide were detected in water samples from where dead fish were found.
    The head of Tianjin's environment monitoring center, Deng Xiaowen told Xinhua that although the deaths need further investigation, it is not uncommon for fish to die en masse in local rivers in summer, as the water quality is generally poor.

    How is the clean up progressing?

    After what initially appeared to be a slow response to the disaster, China's Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun has ordered local authorities to release information on a timely basis and be open and transparent.
    According to Ministry of Environmental Protection official Tian Weiyong, water tests at the warehouse and the surrounding disaster zone showed high levels of deadly sodium cyanide, an extremely toxic chemical, at eight test locations.
    Sodium cyanide levels at one of these spots were 356 times higher than safety limits.
    Officials say polluted water is contained in a "warning zone" around the blast site and city authorities say air and water quality outside this zone are in the normal range.
    However, local residents, particularly those living close to the zone, remain concerned about long-term environmental impacts.
    Tianjin's Vice Mayor He Shushan told the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's Official newspaper that only 20% of potentially deadly sodium cyanide had been removed from the blast site as of August 20.
    On Friday, the clean-up was complicated by the outbreak of four fires on or near the disaster zone.

    How have Chinese authorities responded?

    To date, they have detained 10 officials from Rui Hai International Logistics including company chairman Yu Xuewei, its president Li Liang, vice president Cao Haijun and chief financial officer Song Qi in relation to safety violations and corporate negligence.
    The company had a license to handle dangerous chemicals, but only since June. The company's previous license lapsed last October.
    The director of the country's work safety agency Yang Dongliang, who was also Tianjin's vice mayor until 2012, is also under investigation.
    Beijing has also announced it will begin auditing all companies that handle dangerous substances across the country, targeting industries related to chemicals, explosives, fireworks, elevators, non-coal mines, public transportation and ports.
    Tianjin Mayor Huang Xingguo said Wednesday that he bore "an unshirkable responsibility" for the blasts.

    What's been the international reaction?

    China's response to the disaster has been openly criticized.
    A top U.N. expert has highlighted concerns over China's handling of the blasts, saying a better flow of information might have lessened or even prevented the disaster.
    Baskut Tuncak, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, has called on the Chinese government to ensure complete transparency in the investigation of the disaster.