Firefighters run past cars damaged by the blasts in Tianjin

Explosions in Tianjin devastate Chinese car import hub

Carmakers are scrambling to assess damage to cars and facilities after two massive explosions in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

The city is China's largest automotive import hub - roughly 40 per cent of cars imported to China pass through Tianjin's port, which equated to more than half a million units in 2014, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Late on Wednesday night, blasts so strong that they damaged buildings several kilometres away destroyed a warehouse storing volatile chemicals, killing at least 54 people, including a dozen fire fighters, state media has confirmed. A further 700 people were injured.

Nearly 1,500 imported cars stored in a warehouse by Renault had been burned, according to the French carmaker, while Toyota said the blasts broke windows at its car assembly, logistics and research buildings, which are jointly run with China FAW Group.

No one at the Toyota facilities was injured as they had been closed for a week-long summer holiday, but a spokesman at Japan's biggest carmaker declined to say whether it could resume production as normal from Monday.

"In our current view, the damage isn't that severe," a China-based Toyota spokesman said.

Photographs from the scene of the explosion showed rows of Beetles and other VW brand cars badly scorched and the German automaker conceded that some of its imported cars were damaged, though it does not know exactly how many had been affected.

"We have a task force in the area to find out more and which is primarily concerned with the wellbeing of our employees," a VW spokeswoman said.

More than 100 Subaru cars that were imported from Japan and were awaiting customs clearance in a warehouse had been damaged by broken windows. The warehouse, which does not belong to parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, is about 2km from the blast site, it said.

South Korea's Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors had a total of 4,000 cars near the blast site, but did not have specific details on the extent of damage, the companies said. BMW said it has two vehicle distribution centres near the port, but the damage was unknown as the area had been cordoned off by authorities.

Mazda Motor said over 50 cars imported from Japan were also damaged, with peeling paint and scratches. One nearby showroom was shut on Thursday after its windows shattered, it said.

Shipping giant Nippon Yusen KK said it could not assess damage at a terminal it operates in Tianjin because the area was off-limits, adding that a few workers sustained minor injuries at an affiliated car distribution company, which was also closed off.

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