China's state media reported on Wednesday that owners of the warehouse for hazardous materials in Tianjin where explosions killed at least 114 people last week used connections to obtain fire safety and environmental approvals, despite violations.
The son of a former police chief and a former executive at a state-owned chemical company were two silent owners of the warehouse, the official Xinhua News Agency said, claiming they used connections to smooth the way for approval for the facility.
Xinhua quoted deputy head of the company, Dong Shexuan, as saying "My connections are with police and fire. When we needed a fire inspection, I went to meet with officials at the Tianjin port fire squad. I gave them ... the files and soon they gave me the appraisal and took care of it."
The two explosions occurred at a warehouse site in Tianjin owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics Co, a company that stores and transports dangerous chemicals.
According to Chinese regulations, warehouses holding dangerous materials must be located at least 1 km away from city centres, public buildings and main roads.
The Xinhua report strengthens the public view that powerful Chinese companies override rules by using personal connections in the government offices, a practice that feeds corruption.
According to the Associated Press, the head of the industrial safety regulator has been under investigation for corruption, who worked 18 years in Tianjin before and allowed companies to operate without a licence for dangerous chemicals for years.
Security officials confirmed the presence of dangerous chemicals at the east side of the warehouse, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide, which can be fatal if inhaled. The incident has threatened the lives of the more than 90,000 people who live within a 5-km radius of the blast site, according to the Chinese Earthquake Administration.
The government has ordered to evacuate residents within a range of 3 km from the site of the incident in order to prevent any possible chemical contamination.
But the public anger against the government has surged in Tianjin among residents of damaged apartments who demand compensation or buy back their destroyed property.
Dozens of homeowners protested outside a hotel during the mayor's news conference on Wednesday, saying pollution from the blast makes their homes unlivable. Tianjin's Mayor, Huang Xingguo, promised a thorough investigation "no matter what connections they have," but that promise did not convince most protesters.
"I'm not getting my hopes up because, to be frank, a lot of us were so excited about (moving into) our homes, now because of the disaster lots of people's homes have been destroyed. But the government still hasn't given us a very clear response, so right now we're still desperately waiting for the government to give us a response," Li Ruizhi told Reuters.
"There's no way we can go back to live there. Apart from all the chemical pollution, they have been incredibly badly damaged," another resident of Vanke Harbor City told the AP.
China has struggled in recent years with accidents, including industrial ones, after three decades of fast economic growth.
President Xi Jinping was reported as saying that authorities should learn the lessons paid for with blood in the blasts.