Industry News

By John Woodside with additional reporting by Si Chen, Xu Wenjuan and Liu Huilan

The 2015 warehouse explosion in Tianjin was one of the worst manmade disasters in Chinese history – and exposed the darker side of rapid urbanisation

This article is a project of UBC’s International Reporting Program

It was almost midnight on a summer Wednesday in 2015 when Hu Xiumin was jolted awake by a loud noise. Her apartment building in the affluent Harbour City development was shaking violently. She ran from the bedroom to find her husband standing in the study, looking out of the window.

From here they could see out over the port of Tianjin; one of the warehouses was on fire. They backed away from the window just moments before the warehouse exploded in one of the worst manmade disasters in China’s history.

Although Hu and her husband were unscathed, 173 people died at Ruihai International Logistics, a warehouse that was storing thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals. Hundreds more people were injured and thousands displaced on 12 August. Videos of the explosion went viral on social media. To the world, the tragedy became known as the Tianjin explosion. To locals, it’s 8/12.

But the explosion also underscored a dilemma at the heart of China’s unprecedented economic boom: the chemical industry is critical for the country’s growth, but that growth is also fuelling rapid urbanisation. This is pushing residential areas closer to active chemical sites – like in Tianjin.

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