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Catastrophic explosion in Tianjin, China: what we know

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On Wednesday, social media users in China posted videos and photos showing a massive explosion — or what appears to potentially be a quick series of explosions — in Tianjin, a port city in the country's northeast. Within minutes, it became clear that this was a major incident:

Here's a brief rundown of what we know, so far, about the explosion (a very big hat tip to Reportedly, the social-first news service, for sourcing much of the information coming out about this blast):

  • The blast happened at around 11:30 am Eastern Standard Time, or 11:30 pm Tianjin time.
  • The blast happened in the Binhai neighborhood, according to Chinese state media, at Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co. Ltd. That's a shipping terminal for a company that transports hazardous cargo.
  • Indeed, there were a number of flammable materials at the terminal, according to China's Xinhua news. Xinhua also reports that the initial blast resulted in "further explosions in companies nearby."
  • At least seven people were killed, and at least 300 people were injured, according to Chinese media reports complied by CBS.
  • Horrifyingly, "an unidentified number of people were trapped in the wreckage," Alan Wong writes in the New York Times, citing local police.
  • People living near the explosion have been evacuated, and local hospitals are calling for blood donations to deal with the influx of patients, per CCTV's Matt Simon.
  • It's still not clear what exactly caused the materials to ignite, or why the blast was so enormous. One theory, the New York Times reports, is a chemical leak.
  • As background, people in a township near Tianjin had been protesting in May over local pollution. "Thousands of people have taken to the protest at alleged carcinogenic pollution from a nearby iron and steel plant " according to Radio Free Asia. This doesn't have any reported connection to the explosion, but it is interesting that nearby people had been concerned about health hazards created by industrial products.
  • The shockwaves from the explosion were felt from pretty far out, reportedly kilometers away. Locals are said to have experienced the blasts as like an earthquake. Here's what seismographs looked like after the explosion:

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