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Residents Demand Compensation For Tianjin Blasts As Death Count Rises

The death toll from the Tianjin tragedy has jumped to at least 114. But 70 people remain unaccounted for, including 64 firefighters.

Last updated on August 17, 2015, at 8:15 a.m. ET

Posted on August 15, 2015, at 10:43 a.m. ET

Paul Traynor / AP

Around 100 residents of Tianjin, China whose homes were damaged by last week's massive warehouse explosions protested outside a hotel where officials have been holding daily news conferences in the city, AP reported.

Despite Chinese work safety rules requiring facilities containing hazardous material to be at least 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) away from residences, public buildings and highways, online maps show the warehouse at the center of the blast was within 500 meters of both an expressway and 100,000 sqaure meter apartment development.

Those living near the blast site descended on the hotel, with banners bearing slogans such as "We victims demand: Government, buy back our houses," and "Kids are asking: How can we grow up healthy?," AP said.

Inside Monday's news conference, Tianjin government spokesman Gong Jiansheng confirmed the death count had risen to 114 people, with 70 still missing, including 6 policemen and 64 firefighters.

Str / AFP / Getty Images

On Sunday, authorities announced they had begun a probe into possible illegal misconduct by public officials or private companies following the explosions.

According to state-run news agency Xinhua, prosecutors with the Supreme People's Procuratorate would "look into possible illegal acts, such as abuse of power or dereliction of duty and deal with those acts which may constitute crimes."

The news came as authorities continued to deal with the aftermath of highly toxic chemicals at the still-smoldering blast site.

Shi Luze, chief of staff of the Beijing Military Area Command, told a press conference Sunday that rescuers were working to clean hundreds of tons of cyanide stored in the decimated industrial zone, Xinhua reported.

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Str / AFP / Getty Images

Officials had previously said that a warehouse at the scene may have been storing sodium cyanide, which can release the highly poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide when burned or dissolved.

Gao Huaiyou, vice head of the Tianjin bureau of work safety, told a press conference Saturday that workers were searching for traces of the chemical compound.

"The chemicals were stored in containers," Gao said, according to a translation by Xinhua. "The containers were not open and some hadn't been registered, so further confirmation is needed."

Late on Wednesday night, a series of huge blasts rocked the port city, near Beijing, after a fire broke out in an industrial area.

More explosions and fires were reported by state media on Saturday.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang visited the city on Sunday to pay his condolences to the victims and inspect the rescue and recovery operations.

Premier Li Keqiang pays tribute to firefighters who died in #Tianjin blasts at a temporary memorial hall

A man in his fifties was also rescued from the blast site on Saturday, according to China Daily, and was rushed to hospital suffering a burn to his respiratory tract.

Reports that the blast-site radius was being evacuated because of the possible chemical contamination threat were later dismissed by an official, China Daily reported.

"No relocation has been ordered. It is a rumor," spokesperson Gong Jiansheng said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon, according to the newspaper. "We'll definitely inform the citizens if we have such a plan."

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AFP / Getty Images

Angry relatives of the missing firefighters stormed a government news conference on Saturday to demand more information, according to the Associated Press. The disaster is reportedly the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than 60 years.

Fred Dufour / AFP / Getty Images

One of the firefighters who was first on scene, Yang Kekai, spoke to China Daily from his hospital bed and recounted the initial efforts to fight the blaze.

“We managed to control the spread of the fire, but the containers exploded unexpectedly 15 minutes after we started spraying water,” he said.

“I subconsciously bent forward and supported my body with both hands on the ground; I heard the noise of 'bang bang' when burning container debris struck my back.

"Before I recollected myself, more than 10 seconds later another blast happened," said the firefighter, who was thrown into the air by the force of the explosion.

"When I was flying in the air, my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was finished," he said.

However, he later regained consciousness and made it to safety, suffering only cuts and bruises.

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