(BEIJING) Chinese authorities recently placed rabbits, chickens and pigeons at the site of the massive, chemical-fueled explosions that rocked Tianjin on Aug. 12, according to state media reports.
Because nothing says “everything is fine” like caged bunnies in a burned-out disaster zone.
Whether it was an ill-conceived attempt to calm the public, or a genuine attempt to gauge toxicity, the move was met with anger and derision online, deepening the skepticism about the government’s ability to handle the fallout from the deadly blasts.
Local officials have struggled to stay ahead of growing public outrage, as Chinese journalists, Tianjin residents and outraged netizens across the country raised uncomfortable questions about what happened, who is responsible, and whether or not the surrounding areas are — as the government claims — safe.
When disaster strikes, Chinese authorities are usually quick to marshal their powers of information control — closing the scene, thwarting reporters and swamping state media with stories about their swift, and competent response. It’s a “nothing to see here, move along, folks” type of approach.
But it was late at night when fire lit up the Port of Tianjin’s sky and images of the blasts spread before local propaganda officials could rally. Chinese journalists jumped on the story, fishing quickly for clues about the warehouse in question and the company that owns it.
After days of radio silence from China’s top leaders, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last Sunday toured the site, vowing “transparency” in the investigation. State-controlled outlets followed up with pieces detailing the government’s “all-out” efforts to get to crack the case.
China’s state-backed press this week confirmed what independent media had been reporting for days: Higher-ups at Ruihai International Logistics allegedly used connections with local officials to secure approval to warehouse hazardous materials. They also kept toxic chemicals less than 1000 yards from public roads and homes, violating local rules.
The scale of the operation was enormous: Ruihui stored 40 different kinds of chemicals, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide, 800 tons of ammonium nitrate and 500 tons of potassium, according to state media reports.
Locals are now worried about the potential short and long-term impact of these substance on the environment and their health. Those fears were stoked Friday when a mass of dead fish washed up on a riverbank in Tianjin.
Chinese authorities said they tested the water and found no evidence of cyanide contamination.
And the rabbits? Local media reported that they survived their two hour stint.