Four Months After Tianjin Blast, Victims Seek Relief

By Juliet Song
Juliet Song
Juliet Song
January 5, 2016 Updated: January 10, 2016

Four months after a series of massive explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin reduced buildings to rubble, victims are still waiting for relief. They fear chemical contamination, and the state compensation they counted on has not been forthcoming.

“No one can work here. I sent away the workers several months ago. I’ve been waiting for state aid, but it hasn’t come,” said Mr. Zhao in an interview with Deutsche Welle. Central heating in his factory was damaged, and plastic cloth has been used to cover a large hole 10 feet in diameter.

Those who lost their homes and assets in the disaster may remember the awe-inspiring moment when they escaped with their lives. Since then, they have faced a hard slog of seeking their rights to compensation. They report being offered nothing at all, or a sum far below any reasonable standard.

If compensation cannot be granted, we are destroyed.
— Mr. Zhao, Tianjin resident

The blast site used to look the way the movies portray the end of the world. In the months since the explosions, there have been some changes. Scaffolds brace buildings near the blast area, and new metal window frames can be seen in many buildings. Hundreds of sacks of toxic waste are stacked together, waiting to be removed by staff in white protective clothes.

Victims are not satisfied with the cleanup, and many small-enterprise owners like Mr. Zhao feel like they have been abandoned. They are struggling in the desperate situation caused by the blast, and still cling to hopes that compensation could ease the pain of losing their assets. Mr. Zhao purchased the factory 10 years ago and is still paying back the loan.

“If compensation cannot be granted, we are destroyed,” said Mr. Zhao. He has been working hard to get the state’s attention, but feels he has been kicked between different agencies like a rubber ball. No one wants to take responsibility.

Mr. Jiang, who operates a logistics company is in a similar situation; compensation is his only hope, due to losses he can’t recoup.

Things are no easier for residents who live in the Binhai New Area, where the blast happened. On Aug. 17, 2015, the city issued a quarterly compensation equivalent to $924, which many apartment owners refused to accept.

Mr. Lei, an apartment owner, told Beijing News that “$308 [per month] is not even enough for monthly rent in the Tanggu District.” 

Many apartment owners told Beijing News that taking the resettlement compensation amounts to an agreement to rent a place nearby while renovating their property. But many of them don’t ever want to go back. Their property suffered severe damage, they are concerned about the environment, and they want to get out from under the shadow of the disaster. According to the official tally, 173 people were killed in the explosions.

Mr. Qin, another apartment owner in Port City, told Beijing News, “Who wants to rent in a place where such a disaster happened?”

Li Yaqing (pseudonym), another apartment owner, told NetEase that she is enraged that the resettlement compensation is so little. She and other petitioners have sought to defend their rights.

The regime has offered to compensate them 30 percent more than what they paid for the property, or the choice of renovation compensation of up to 16 percent of the property’s worth. Owners who signed the agreement before Sept. 3, 2015, earned a bonus of $3,082.

The owners’ instant reaction was that they couldn’t sign the agreement. Such compensation could not purchase any property of comparable quality to what they previously had, with today’s real estate prices being so high.

However, owners who work in state-owned enterprises or as civil servants found themselves called into the boss’s office, where they were threatened to sign the agreement before the deadline. If they didn’t sign, they were told promotions, bonuses, and pensions would be affected. They could also be removed from their positions.

For Fu Yong (pseudonym), who works as a shipping agent, earning enough money to buy property of similar quality will take him only six months to a year. Nonetheless, he petitioned with other owners who were harmed. “Honestly, … I just can’t believe that there is such an unfair thing in the world,” he said.

Juliet Song