Friday, August 14, 2015

Scale of Tianjin Disaster

The biggest story in China is the chemical explosions and fire in Tianjin. The fire may have started with a defective shipping container containing a volatile chemical. A fire affected several containers and the heat from the fire was probably the cause of two explosions. The second explosion was much larger than the first and caused extensive damage to buildings in a radius of 2 kilometers, with window damage found 6 kilometers away. The fire continues and a large area has been evacuated because of the chemical risk.

It seems likely that many hearing the news have not heard of Tianjin before. The initial New York Times story used valuable headline space to describe Tianjin as “a port in China,” a pragmatic editorial decision conveying an essential detail the average reader probably did not know. The unfamiliarity can make it difficult to understand the scale. Tianjin is a major city and an important northern port, considered the 10th largest port in the world, comparable in U.S. terms to New York City combined with half of New Jersey. The extent of the disruption may not come across in news reports that focus first on the size of the explosion and the subsequent death toll.

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