A man checks his mobile phone near overturned shipping containers after explosions hit the Binhai new district, Tianjin, August 13, 2015.
Stringer China—Reuters
By Rishi Iyengar
August 13, 2015

The Chinese port city of Tianjin was rocked by two massive blasts Wednesday night, killing at least 44 people, and injuring 520, 66 of them critically. Although the exact cause of the explosion is still unclear, there are strong indications that it was triggered by the accidental ignition of a shipping container filled with explosives.

Accidents of this nature are shockingly common in China, with inadequate safety standards and unstable infrastructure often to blame. Here are some of the country’s worst industrial disasters:

1. Dehui Poultry Factory Fire, 2013

At least 119 people died and 54 others were injured when a huge fire broke out at a poultry plant in the northeastern city of Dehui. The blaze was reported to have been caused by an ammonia leak, and the deaths were attributed to the fact that the factory’s supervisors routinely locked its doors from the outside during working hours to avoid laborers wandering around the plant — thereby cutting off any possible emergency escape routes.

2. Shanxi Mine Collapse, 2008

A total of 281 people died after a mine collapsed following a September 2008 mudslide in Shanxi province. While authorities initially tried to blame the disaster on unusually heavy rain, it soon emerged that poor enforcement of mining safety standards was the primary cause.

3. Laobaidong Colliery Blasts, 1960

Many of China’s worst disasters have occurred in its notoriously unsafe mines. Of these, the second deadliest took place in the Laobaidong coal mine in May 1960, when an apparent methane explosion killed 684 people. Said to be the worst accident since the People’s Republic of China was formed in 1949, all news of the blast was suppressed by Chinese authorities until it finally emerged in 1992.

4. Benxihu Colliery Disaster, 1942

A mixture of gas and coal dust caused this massive explosion at the Honkeiko coal mine near Benxi in China’s Liaoning province, killing 1,549 people in an undoubtedly undesirable world record for “worst coal mining disaster” that stands to this day. The worst part? It isn’t even China’s worst industrial disaster.

5. Banqiao Dam Tragedy, 1975

On Aug. 8, 1975, the Banqiao dam — located about 750 km west of Shanghai — burst due to unusually heavy rains caused by a massive typhoon, in what remains the worst-ever disaster not just in China, but globally. Although reports of the exact number of people killed vary, most say at least 100,000 people perished from the immediate flooding, while fatalities from the resultant famines and diseases pushed the total death toll to more than 220,000.

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