Intended for healthcare professionals


China sends in medical teams to cope with casualties of Tianjin blast

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 18 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4475
  1. Michael Woodhead
  1. 1Sydney

China’s health authorities have activated disaster response plans to send in medical teams to help treat hundreds of casualties from the massive Tianjin chemical explosion on Wednesday 12 August.

Official reports have said that at least 112 people were killed, 95 were missing, and 722 were admitted to hospital for treatment of injuries from the blast, which destroyed a wide area around a container storage area in the northeastern port city of Tianjin.

Many of the dead and wounded people were firefighters sent to tackle the blaze that triggered the huge explosion at around midnight on 12 August.

Doctors treating casualties at the nearby Taida Hospital said that most of the injuries were blast injuries such as burns and fractures, although hundreds of nearby residents were also injured by broken glass from windows shattered by the blast.

Taida Hospital itself had many windows shattered by the explosion that occurred 3 km away, and its 12 operating theatres were quickly overloaded by the large number of casualties. The hospital’s manager, Lu Yun, said that more than 500 patients had been treated at the hospital and that 80 seriously injured patients were admitted.

Within hours a disaster response plan implemented by the National Health and Family Planning Commission saw patients being diverted to the 30 other hospitals in the Tianjin area. The commission also sent teams of specialists in areas such as surgery and burns, and intensive care nurses from Beijing, Hebei, and Shanghai, to Tianjin.

Guo Yan, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Peking University Third Hospital, was one of more than 100 medical staff who made the 120 km trip from Beijing to Tianjin, where he assisted at Taida Hospital. “On arrival we quickly carried out rounds and consultations to provide medical assistance for the injured. The critically ill patients admitted to the hospital had mostly head, chest, and abdominal trauma and fractures,” he told the media website Sohu.

Dong Lei, deputy director of critical care medicine at the Beijing Friendship Hospital, helped care for eight patients in Taida Hospital’s intensive care unit. “We had patients with open fracture infections, fractured ribs, diaphragmatic perforation, splenic rupture, and pneumothorax and also one soldier with respiratory burns on a ventilator,” he told the People’s Daily.

Mental health specialists were also sent to Tianjin to provide psychological support to people affected by the blast.

Cui Li, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that the medical response to the Tianjin explosion was coordinated by a swiftly convened joint expert group that put an emphasis on patient triage and transfer. Another key factor in the emergency response was logistical support to ensure that hospitals had adequate supplies of drugs and equipment, he said.

Tianjin residents formed volunteer teams to help deal with the disaster, with queues of would be blood donors at local clinics, and many local businesses offering to provide services such as free transport and bottled water to blast victims.

However, China’s social media sites also buzzed with reports that numbers of casualties from the explosion were much higher than those quoted in the official media. One man was arrested and hundreds of social media accounts were suspended for spreading online rumours that many hundreds more people died than had been officially reported.

In the aftermath, the focus has switched to the health hazards of the chemicals stored at the site, which may have been dispersed into the local environment. Reports stated that 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide had been stored at the container port, and authorities have evacuated residents from an area 3 km around the blast site.

Relief efforts are also under way to provide shelter and aid to more than 17 000 Tianjin residents who had been left homeless by the damage caused by the blast.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4475

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