After placing a bouquet of white chrysanthemum at the foot of their son’s photo, the elderly couple would have collapsed had they not been supported by someone else.
Zi Fuchang and his wife travelled almost 800 kilometers from Zhoukou in Henan Province, central China, to the northern port city of Tianjin, to bid a final farewell to their son.
Zi Qinghai, 20, had been a firefighter. He was one of the 114 people who lost their lives in massive explosions that tore through a warehouse last Wednesday. Fifty-seven others are still missing.
“Qinghai was due to end his service this September,” his heartbroken mother, Guo Xianzhen, said, chocking back tears.
Qinghai’s sister Zi Fangfang will forever be haunted by the image of her bother’s body, which she had to identify.
“He was almost unrecognizable,” she said. “His body bent over, and his right hand still clenched.”
As rain fell from the darkened sky overhead in Tianjin on Tuesday, the seventh day after the blasts, mourners observed a moment of silence for the dead.
According to Chinese tradition, the soul returns home on the seventh day after death. It is typically a day spent in mourning.
Cargo ship’s horns blared in honor of the dead, punctuating the heavy silence than hung over those that had gathered on that somber Tuesday morning.
Sirens were also rung as hundreds of Tianjin development zone firefighters bowed to 29 photos of their deceased colleagues.
At TEDA Hospital, where the wounded are being treated, staff arranged candles in the shape of a heart outside the entrance to the accident and emergency department.
More than 300 people, including officials from the Tianjin municipal government, also had a moment of silence in a garden in Binhai New Area, where the warehouse was located.
Firefighters, armed policemen, volunteers and relatives left flowers in front of a memorial wall, where a simple sign read: “Condolences to those who died in the Aug. 12 accident”.
One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told Xinhua that the day of explosions had been her birthday.
“I had just finished celebrating, when the building began to shake. I thought it was an earthquake,” she said, sobbing. Her apartment was 10 kilometers away from the blasts site.
“The sky lit up. It was horrible,” she said. “I will never be happy on my birthday again.”
RESCUE, PREVENTION OF SECONDARY DISASTERS
The death toll from the accident had risen to 114 as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, with 692 people hospitalized and 57 still unaccounted for. The missing are mostly firefighters. It is likely to be the highest loss of life for the profession in recent times.
Of the deceased, the identities of 83 have been confirmed, including 50 firemen and six police officers.
The blasts have affected 17,000 households and 1,700 enterprises. At least 6,000 residents have been displaced.
At a relocation site at a primary school, heartfelt pleas appeal for any information on the missing.
Soldiers are still searching for survivors, picking their way through the debris and “maze of containers” at the site and nearby residences.
About 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide stored at the blasts site remains “mostly unaffected”, assured Bao Jingling, chief engineer with Tianjin bureau of environmental protection.
Of the 40 water monitoring stations, set up in in the wake of the explosions, eight had reported excessive levels of cyanide by Monday, with some samples containing 28.4 times more than the standard.
Pictures circulating on the Internet show white foam on the ground after it rained on Tuesday. A Xinhua reporter complained of a burning sensation after her skin came into contact with the rain.
Bao told reporters that the water is being closely monitored, and a dam, constructed around the blast site, is being reinforced in an effort to ensure contaminated water is contained.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that some dangerous chemicals are left […] after the blasts,” he said. “Please, do not pour water onto the chemicals.”
The blasts have left many unanswered questions.
How did the warehouse, which was so close to a residential area, secure a license? Were residents made aware of the hazard? What caused the fire? Who is to blame?
Although Tianjin Rui Hai International Logistics Co. Ltd., the company that managed the warehouse, had the licenses to handle these chemicals, an executive with the company told Xinhua that they had “handled hazardous chemicals for a period without a license”.
Questions are also being asked of a supposed poll of 128 people that lived in close proximity to the warehouse. Conducted by environmental authorities as part of the certification process, the poll concluded that “most respondents supported the project, with no objections”.
Residents, however, claim they had no knowledge of what the warehouse was storing.
Poor management of the company is another problem. A Xinhua reporter was told by a local government representative that there were discrepancies regarding the category and amount of chemicals.
According to a 2001 regulation, warehouses storing dangerous chemicals should be at least 1,000 meters away from residences. The warehouse, however, was 560 meters from a community damaged by the blasts.
Vanke, real estate developer of a community damaged by the blasts, said when it obtained the land in 2010, the warehouse stored ordinary goods.
Ten people have been detained following the disaster, including Rei Hai CEO, according to the Tianjin Daily official weibo account.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, has tasked an investigation team with discovering the cause of the explosions.
Many residents have lost their homes.
“I have lost everything, except the debts for my apartment that I haven’t paid off,” said an unnamed resident in tears.
Zi Qinghai’s parents still have no idea what happened to their son in his last moments.
“He liked his job,” said Guo, the man’s mother. “He had told me that even after his service ended, he would continue to be a firefighter.” Enditem