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China gripped by stories of heroic firefighters during Tianjin explosions

A firefighter who was an eyewitness to the devastation said the eruptions took place after 19 of his colleagues entered the warehouse site where the explosions occurred.

By Elizabeth Shim

CHINA TIANJIN EXPLOSIONepa04881575 Firemen carry a body found after a huge explosion rocked the port city of Tianjin,...

Posted by Αθηναϊκό - Μακεδονικό Πρακτορείο Ειδήσεων on Thursday, August 13, 2015

TIANJIN, China, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- A significant number of casualties in the two powerful explosions that rocked the Chinese city of Tianjin late Wednesday were firefighters who had arrived on the scene before the eruptions – and emotional text messages exchanged between two of them have been sweeping the Chinese Internet.

The firefighters had received an emergency call after 10:50 p.m. on Wednesday, Chinese press reported.

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The caller said a fire had broken out in a warehouse near the docks – and by 11:06 p.m. the Tianjin fire department had dispatched nine units of firefighters in 35 fire trucks, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The two explosions occurred one after another around 11:30 p.m. A firefighter who saw the blasts said they took place after 19 of his colleagues entered a warehouse site, believing the area to be safe.

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"Not many survived the explosions," he told Chinese media.

By 1:30 p.m. Thursday local time, Chinese outlets were reporting 44 dead, 12 of them firefighters who were called to duty. The multiple deaths of firefighters may be the first on record in contemporary China, according to press reports.

Those who survived with injuries were transported to Taida Hospital in Tianjin, but hospital admissions did not begin until after 6 a.m. Thursday.

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Seven or eight fire trucks were destroyed during the blasts, and footage of the scene showed the vehicles had been crushed beyond recognition.

One unnamed firefighter who had exchanged text messages before the explosions had asked his colleague to take care of his family in case he did not return from his mission.

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"If I don't come back, my father is your father, and don't forget to pay your respects to my mother at her grave," the firefighter said. His colleague agreed to the request.

The messages went viral on the Chinese Internet as the country mourned the tragedy. The firefighter was not yet listed among the dead, according to sources, and CCTV America reported he was alive.

Over 50 to 60 freight companies were either destroyed or experienced serious damage in the explosions.

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