Rescue operations have been suspended while teams scan the area for harmful chemicals
An environmental expert says evacuation of the area around Wednesday’s mammoth warehouse blast in the Chinese port city of Tianjin is the “main priority,” and warned of the explosion’s long term consequences.
His words came as the death toll continued to rise, with at least 44 people dead and 520 others hospitalized, of which 66 are in critical condition, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported Thursday afternoon. Several of the dead are reportedly firefighters.
“With a blast like this, normally you would expect the transport [of particulate matter] to be along the wind gradient or contours, but a blast this big must push it beyond that in the opposite direction,” Ravi Naidu, Director of the Global Centre for Environmental Remediation at the University of Newcastle Australia, told TIME. “Not just people but animals and other organisms would be exposed to certain chemicals.”
Rescue operations have been temporarily suspended while chemical teams scan the area for harmful materials as fears of airborne toxins mount.