Asia

Tianjin explosions: Praise for 'hero' firefighters

Firemen carry a body at the scene of two powerful explosions in the Chinese city of Tianjin Image copyright EPA
Image caption More than 1,000 firefighters have been tackling blazes at the scene of the blasts

"These men had the purest of hearts. A shining example to China, may their brave souls now rest in peace."

This is just one of the thousands of comments on Chinese social media hailing the firefighters caught up in the huge explosions in Tianjin.

But amid the praise there has been criticism of how the incident was handled.

Many firefighters were already at the scene before the explosions took place, trying to douse a warehouse blaze. They were then caught up in blasts so large they could be seen in space.

At least 21 firefighters have been confirmed dead, with about 70 firefighters reported as missing. More than 1,000 had been sent to tackle the flames.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Chinese fire service released this image of (top L to R) Yang Gang, Yuan Hai, Shao Junqiang, and (bottom L to R) Tian Baojian, Zhen Yuhang, and Yin Yanrong who all died

On Friday, a 19-year-old firefighter, named as Zhou Ti was pulled alive from the debris.

The efforts of the Tianjin firefighters have featured prominently on Chinese media, old and new. "If we don't rush to the scene, who will?" the Guangzhou Daily highlighted one as saying.

An exchange on messaging service WeChat, purportedly between a fireman heading to the blast site and a friend, has been widely shared.

In it, the fireman tells his friend: "If I don't come back, my father is your father." He survived, according to Chinese state media.

Those that did not have begun to be identified - they include a 25-year-old newlywed, who leaves behind a pregnant wife, according to the Shanghaiist.com. The youngest was just 18.


'Visit my mother's grave'

Image copyright Other

This WeChat exchange, apparently between a fireman and his friend, has gathered much attention. Here is an edited extract.

Fireman: I'm in the car to Tanggu (a district of Tianjin).

Friend: Please call me right now.

Fireman: I'm wearing all my gear, I'm the only person with a phone.

Friend: Then please call me immediately tomorrow when you get home.

Fireman: If I don't come back, my father is your father. Remember to visit my mother's grave.

Friend: OK, your dad is my dad. Please be careful.


The Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo has been flooded with posts celebrating the firemen.

The hashtag #TheWorldsMostHandsomeRetrograde was shared almost 200,000 times in 48 hours, referencing a cartoon of a fireman moving against a tide of people to reach the blaze.

"Real heroes do not wear capes. Let us salute the memory of our nation's firefighters, who willingly put their lives before others they did not even know," said one user.

Another user name Yuan, posted pictures of her brother who was killed in the blasts.

"Your brother is a national hero, you must salute him and dry your eyes. Temporary pain is inevitable but in heaven where he is, there is no pain," offered one consoling message.

But others have condemned how the incident was handled: "Why let young firefighters who have no experience go to the scene?"

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Firefighters account for a substantial number of the known fatalities
Image copyright AFP
Image caption There have been tributes on official and social media

The Southern Weekly newspaper suggested the firemen responding to the initial blaze could have inadvertently triggered the blasts, by spraying water on the warehouse without knowing volatile chemicals were being stored there.

Some wondered whether the focus on the firemen's bravery in official media was helping the authorities avoid difficult questions.

"Every time when disaster happens, state media always spread heroic acts," a poster on Weibo wrote, according the the AFP news agency.

"In the end, people are touched by these stories. Then nobody asks the cause of the accident to explore the truth."

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