Residents Evacuated From China Blast Site Demand Compensation as Death Toll Rises

Paramilitary policemen stand guard as residents evacuated from their homes after last week's explosions at Binhai new district, hold a rally demanding government compensation outside the venue of the government officials' news conference in Tianjin, China, August 17, 2015. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - Hundreds of residents displaced by huge explosions last week in China's port city of Tianjin demanded compensation on Monday, as authorities worked to complete a sweep of the blast site for dangerous chemicals.

The death toll from the two blasts last on Wednesday rose to 114, officials said. More than 700 people were injured and 70 are missing, most of them fire fighters, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The explosions sent fireballs high into the sky and hurled flaming debris across the industrial area at the world's 10th-largest port, burning out buildings and shattering windows kilometers away.

Xinhua said there had been another small explosion on Monday. Flames could later be seen but smoke had cleared.

As teams specialized in handling hazardous chemicals scrambled to clean up the site, Tianjin's deputy mayor, He Shushan, confirmed there was about 700 tons of deadly chemical sodium cyanide in the warehouse that blew up.

"Most was concentrated in the core" blast area, he said. Workers would finish a search of a 3-km (2-mile) perimeter to identify and clean up chemicals by the end of the day, he said.

About 200 protesters gathered outside a hotel where officials were briefing journalists.

"This is not a demonstration. This is simply our only channel to attract the government's attention. Up until now they have not acknowledged us," said Li Jiao, whose home was close to the blast site.

About 6,300 people have been evacuated from around the site in the city of about 15 million and the gateway toChina's industrial northeast.

About three dozen police and military personnel blocked the crowd from entering the hotel. Some protesters chanted for the government to "buy back" their homes and others carried signs that read "fix our homes, that's our demand".

There were no clashes.

Another protester, also surnamed Li, said he had taken out an 800,000 yuan ($125,000) loan to buy an apartment that was so badly damaged it was leaning over. He said his family had not moved in but would now never live there for fear of health risks

"Most of the people who bought those homes are young, white-collar workers like me. It isn't a small amount of money for us," he said.

Credit Suisse analysts said the explosions could generate insurance losses of between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, citing initial estimates from media.

Paramilitary police accompanied residents back to their homes to clear them of belongings, the official microblog of the People's Liberation Army Daily reported.

China's top prosecutor, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, has opened an investigation into the explosions.

Deputy mayor He said officials were confident those responsible would be held to account but he did not discuss compensation.

"We believe that the investigation team can determine the cause of the accident, in short order determine and firmly punish violations of law, and in this way ... give victims and the people a full explanation," He said.

A man surnamed Zhang, whose building was about 600 meters from the warehouse, said his apartment was completely destroyed.

"The government should be regulating this for sure," Zhang said. "It's their responsibility. They had one eye open, one closed when it came to the company."

Officials said environmental standards were still "basically guaranteed" and there were contingency plans to prevent rain from creating dangerous gases or spreading contamination.

Global automakers are struggling to assess the damage to their vehicles at China's largest entry point for imported cars. Volkswagen AG said about 2,700 of its imported cars were damaged.

Industrial accidents are not uncommon in China after three decades of rapid growth.