The blasts stopped import operations at the port and disrupted oil tanker arrivals and departures at what is a huge gateway for northeast China.
The blasts shattered windows in buildings and cars and knocked down walls for miles around the site. Chinese news agencies said that the explosions caused fires at a warehouse containing “dangerous and toxic chemicals”.
Several trucks carrying specialist police – wearing masks to protect them from potentially toxic smoke – headed to the area as grey smoke billowed from the blast site.
The Japan Meteorological Agency released images apparently showing the blast visible from space.
Above: Image released by Japan Meteorological Agency. The white dot in the centre is apparently the explosion, visible from space.
Local hospitals were overwhelmed with people seeking treatment caused by flying debris. At least 60 people have been seriously injured, according to the Tianjin government.
President Xi Jinping promised a full investigation into what happened and demanded that authorities “make [a] full effort to rescue and treat the injured and ensure the safety of people and their property”.
Chinese media reported that at least one person at a “relevant company” had been detained.
Witnesses said that vast areas of the port – the 10th largest in the world – had been devastated. Crumpled shipping containers were thrown around like match sticks, hundreds of new cars were torched and port buildings left as burnt-out shells, Reuters reported.