Two huge explosions at a warehouse for toxic hazardous chemicals in Tianjin city of China, had 50 fatalities so far, the city government said Thursday.
The government said that more than 700 people were injured in the explosion.
The cause of the blasts is still under investigation but China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said several containers caught fire beforehand.
The explosions occurred shortly before midnight, shattering windows several miles away and sending people running out into the street fearing an earthquake had hit the city.
"I thought it was an earthquake, so I rushed downstairs without my shoes on," Tianjin resident Zhang Siyu, whose home is several miles from the blast site, told the Associated Press. "Only once I was outside did I realize it was an explosion. There was the huge fireball in the sky with thick clouds. Everybody could see it."
The force of the initial blast equalled that of 3 tons of TNT; the second explosion was seven times stronger, the equivalent of 21 tons of explosives, according to China's National Earthquake Bureau. The explosions were so large, they were seen by satellites in space.
"It was like what we were told a nuclear bomb would be like," said truck driver Zhao Zhencheng, who told the AP he had spent the night in the cab of his truck after the blasts. "I've never even thought I'd see such a thing. It was terrifying, but also beautiful."
More than 1,000 firefighters descended on the scene, at least 12 have died battling the blazes.
There was no immediate sign of any toxic cloud in the air, however the Tianjin government allowed a team of chemical experts to survey hazardous materials at the site and assess dangers to the environment.
State media reported that the senior management of the company had been detained. Meanwhile Chinese President Xi Jinping demanded severe punishment for anyone found responsible for the blasts.
Tianjin – the 10 largest port in the world with a population of 15 million people – is a petrochemical processing hub about 75 miles east of Beijing.
The city is being promoted by the Chinese government as a center for finance and high-tech industry.
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.