Internationally, there have been many big accidents that have brought about grief to many. In Korea there was the Sewol Ferry accident which happened last year. The ferry sank and became such a huge issue because of the numerous mistakes made by government, the ferry company, and the ferry captain. A total of 400 people died. Most of the passengers were high school students going on a field trip and out of the pity and sorrow for these young students, Korean society felt a combined sorrow. This accident is regarded as one of the biggest tragedies in Korean history. Likewise, there was another big tragedy this year in August in Tianjin, China. In the port of this metropolis, a massive explosion occurred, leaving over 500 casualties. It became an international issue and people sent their regards from all over the world. Let’s get into this incident that brought about such a huge number of casualties.
1. Ka Boom
Tianjin is a city with the huge population of 15,200,000 and is located in the northern part of China. It is one of the largest sea ports and trading cities in China. In this hub of trade and industries, there were two explosions at 11:30 PM on August 12th. Up until August 22nd, 121 people were presumed dead but most of the bodies were at the state where it is hard to confirm their identities. 646 people were being treated in hospital and 13 out of those were in a critical condition. Probably the number of deaths and the injured will keep increasing. Before the explosion, firefighters tried to control the flames but to no avail, the explosion killed 21 fire firefighters and 51 of them were missing. The explosion is believed to have started in the storage area of Ruihai Logistics, a company that specializes in the handling of hazardous goods. The explosions happened 40 minutes after the first reports of fire and after 30 seconds of the first, a second explosion happened as the flames moved on to another storage area.
The First explosion was said to be as big as 3 tons of TNT explosives exploding, and the consecutive explosion was similar to that of 21 tons of TNT exploding. The explosions could be felt from cities far from the port and some bodies were found 300m away from the explosion site, due to the brute force of the explosion. The second explosion took place in the middle of chaos as there were people doing their best to run away from the explosion site out of fear, and all the cars were all heading out of the way of the explosion. The explosion site had black smoke rising continuously for several days. Extinguishing the fire and taking care of the explosion was not an easy task. There was the risk of more consecutive explosions happening so firefighters could not easily approach the area and even with over 100 fire trucks, the fire was not easy to put out. The fire continued but the firefighters could not easily approach the site, and this contributed to the high number of casualties. However, even though this was such a massive incident, the cause of the incident has not been determined. All that can be said about the cause of the explosion is that there must have been some kind of flammable matter near the storage facilities. This is a serious issue because not being able identify the cause could trigger another catastrophe in the future. Therefore, a precise and a thorough investigation is indeed necessary.
In any case, there was a lot of effort put into putting out the explosion and although unexpected problems are still arising, the accident seemed to be clearing up and the Chinese society was starting to return to normal. However on August 22nd, another explosion happened. Just 10 days after the initial explosion a chemical plant in eastern Shandong exploded. China was the scandal of the globe and amongst all the interest from across the world, the new explosion at the chemical plant became more gossip for the world. The explosion in the village of Shandong was so strong that buildings in a 5km radius of the explosion had their windows blown to pieces. Fortunately or unfortunately, there were not a lot of casualties, only 9, and nobody dies. However, there is still the worry of a 2nd series of casualties caused by the hazardous materials as it was a chemical facility that exploded. This explosion was a direct challenge to the Chinese government that claimed to reinforce safety regulations and punish those responsible for the explosions.
2. The End of Explosion, the Start of New Troubles
The aftermath of the Tianjin explosion did not just end after the fire was put out. As mentioned above, the explosions were caused by the storage areas containing hazardous goods. The storage contained many toxic materials that become a problem to the environment and to humans. When ships that carry petrol or cargo crash the petrol or cargo that leak out from the crash can be cleaned up over time. But in the case of the Tianjin explosion, the problem deepens since the chemical rises and diffuses in the air. Thus, it is much harder to clean up compared to other pollutions. The main chemical in the storage was sodium cyanide and when it comes in contact with water, it becomes hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous substance both to humans and the environment. During the first rain after the explosion, toxic matter that was drifting in the air combined with the rain and left its marks. White foam appeared on the road and on the windows of buildings. People who were exposed to the rain complained of itchiness and stinging feelings on the skin and some had white powder coming out from their noses. If the toxic matter is carried on the wind and moves to other areas more people will have to suffer. How the Chinese government will cope with the problem is a dilemma indeed.
The environmental damage that the explosion has brought about is also serious. 8 million ㎡ of land has become a polluted wasteland. According to the Environmental Protection Department of China, it is predicted to take more than 2 years to recover from the contamination and eliminate the deathly pollutants from the land. Other than this, handling the polluted underground water is another task China has to deal with. The explosion was big and powerful enough to touch the water resting below the city and there is a high possibility that the waters of Tianjin are polluted. Other than the pollution in China itself, the world is also worried about whether the crops of China will have any side effects to those who consume them. Regarding the fact that china is responsible for a huge portion of the world’s crops, the side effects of crops grown in China is not something to be taken lightly. Also there was the fear that the wind will carry toxic matter all the way to Korea but it does not seem to be a very valid fear.
The Chinese government has put out a plan to develop the area and make use of the ruined land. A maritime ecological park will be made at the explosion site though specific plans of this park are unknown. The scale of the park will be 24 million ㎡ with the monuments of the victims who died in the incident. It seems that the incident is becoming somewhat wrapped up and concluded.
3. Ignorance of Safety, the Fundamental Cause
The exact reasons for the explosion have not been confirmed and as the explosion was so sudden, it can be referred to as a sad accident with 700 casualties. On the other hand, considering the explosion in Shandong just as a coincidence seems awkward. To think of the chemical plant explosion in Shandong as just a mere accident is being too generous. How can such big explosions that shake Chinese society happen only 10 days apart? Anyone with the sense to watch the news and know what is going on would probably pay more attention to safety out of the fear that what happened at Tianjin might also happen to them. The government even said that the people in charge would pay the price for such a huge explosion. Wouldn’t that be enough to make anyone pay more attention to safety? However, the people of the Shandong chemical plant did not seem to share the common thoughts of other people. Actually, it seems like safety ignorance is what caused the explosions.
Whatever the cause of the accident was, we can be sure that something went amiss. Someone or some people overlooked something which is the cause of almost all problems. However, we should also remember the facilities in the Tianjin port and Shandong were dangerous enough to cause explosions that can damage buildings from kilometers away and cause toxic chemicals to run free. People who deal with these sorts of dangerous materials should have more caution to be wary of it and make sure that nothing goes wrong. Perhaps it was the daily life of the employees who always this kind of dangerous materials that made them unaware of the danger and cause safety ignorance or perhaps it was just that they did not fix the small problems that they found thinking that such problems would not matter. However, it all comes down to the fact that the explosions have to do with the lack of safety which is prevalent throughout today’s society.
Also there is the fact that the explosions happened after nearly 40 minutes after the first reported fire. Surely the firefighters, the employees or the citizens of Tianjin or any out of the 3 knew that there were some dangerous materials at the port. However, it does not seem that people were in a hurry to put out the fire. If people had just been more wary and put more effort into extinguishing the fire in the first place there would not have been any explosions. It seems that people just did not recognize the fact that the fire could turn into such a danger.
People who deal with dangerous materials should reflect upon this incident to think about whether they are also exposed to safety issues and are not overlooking procedures or rules that can claim the lives of many.
In Korea there is a phrase that is often used as a joke “do not be deceived by familiarity and lose something”. Most of the time it is used humorously as something like this “do not be deceived by the familiarity and forget you are single”, but when taking a closer look at this phrase, it is almost scary. It is saying that familiarity makes you forget that there is problem in the situation and makes you do nothing to change it. In the cases of the Sewol Ferry disaster or the Tianjin explosion, people were too ignorant toward safety. The appropriate phrase in this case should perhaps be along the lines of something like “do not be deceived by familiarity and forget safety”. Let’s keep in mind that forgetting dangers that underlie our daily lives and not forgetting safety, is the most effective way to prevent disasters from happening.< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >