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Huge explosions at a chemical storage terminal near the port rocked China’s northeastern port city of Tianjin late Wednesday.

The owner of the warehouse was identified as Tianjin Dongjiang Port Ruihai International Logistics, whose website says it is a government-approved company specialising in dangerous goods

The force of the blasts registered on earthquake scales, including those in the US, and was felt miles away in the city.

The Tianjin government said yesterday (Thursday) that the death toll had risen to 50. Twelve of the dead were firefighters from among the more than 1 000 sent to fight the blaze. The municipal government said 701 people were injured, including 71 in serious condition. It gave no figure for the missing.

The fire is mostly under control, and the Tianjin local government says further efforts to put out flames have been suspended on orders of the central government so that a team of chemical experts can assess hazardous materials on site, dangers to the environment and how best to proceed.

Significant disruption of onshore operations and port shipping traffic followed in the wake of these massive explosions.

There were immediate reports that areas of the port were devastated, with “crumpled shipping containers thrown around like match sticks”, hundreds of new cars torched and port buildings left as burnt-out shells, according to witnesses.

Oil tankers and vessels carrying “hazardous products” were barred from calling at the port, according to a post from the official microblog of the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration (TMSA). It added that the Beigangchi area, which handles containers, crude and general cargo and others, had allowed ships to leave but not to enter. BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group said iron ore shipments were also disrupted.

However, industry officials said oil and gas facilities at the port had not been affected.

Tianjin is the 10th-busiest container port globally and has become a northern gateway for shipments of ore, coal, automobiles and oil into China, the world’s biggest user of energy, metals and grains. About 17% of the nation’s ethylene imports, 15% of its wheat deliveries and 30% of steel exports in the first half of 2015 were transported via the Tianjin customs area, government data show.

But other ports along China’s eastern coastline, especially those in nearby Shandong and Hebei provinces, could easily digest the capacity Tianjin may not be able to handle.