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Dozens Killed As Explosions Strike Warehouses In Chinese Port City


Two enormous explosions tore through a warehouse district yesterday in the Chinese port city of Tianjin at a place where toxic chemicals and gas were stored. Witnesses described gigantic fireballs. Some said they thought they were seeing a nuclear explosion. Buildings near the blast crumbled. Cars were tossed into the air. At least 50 people were killed, including many firefighters. According to China's official media, more than 700 people are injured. We reached Steve Ra earlier this morning. He's an American English teacher living in Tianjin. Good morning.

STEVE RA: Good morning. Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So I gather you were in your apartment a couple of miles from the explosion. What did you hear and feel from that distance?

RA: Yes, it was about 11:30. It was a series of two blasts, one immediately followed by the other. There was a thunderous sound followed by huge tremors - tremendous tremors. Initially, I thought it was an earthquake. However, in the area that we're in, we have helicopters that fly in and out of the area because we're so near the port, the port of Tianjin. I also had thought maybe a helicopter had crashed into the building - that's how thunderous the sound of the tremor was.

MONTAGNE: And then, I gather the apartment building was evacuated. So once you got outside, what were you seeing?

RA: You know, you had people streaming out of the apartments. These are 32-story apartment buildings so, you know, lots of people rushing out. As we're coming out of the stairway, it's filled with smoke and dust. It's very difficult to see. Once we got outside, it was raining debris, glass and other particles.

MONTAGNE: And how long did that last?

RA: Oh, it was - you know, we were showered with glass and debris for about a good 10, 15 minutes. So it was very difficult. It was very difficult to find some sort of shelter or something over your head because, again, everyone was evacuating out of the building, everyone was going out into the open grass areas - the quad areas. It was very difficult to find shelter, so a lot of people were just covering themselves.

MONTAGNE: Well, do you have any sense - it's been some hours now - how the city, generally - it's a very big city - how the city is reacting?

RA: For the most part, everyone is panicked. Everyone is being very cautious of going outdoors because we do know now that it was a chemical plant that exploded, and so there's this fear that chemicals - these chemicals may be the air. So a lot of people are trying to stay indoors.

MONTAGNE: Steve Ra spoke with us from the Chinese port city of Tianjin. Thank you very much.

RA: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.