Worker dormitories in Tianjin's port area were reduced to twisted wreckage and emergency rooms were packed with injured migrants on Thursday, as the underclass of China's economic boom bore the brunt of a series of giant blasts.
The explosions in Tianjin - one of which was equivalent to detonating 21 tonnes of TNT - killed at least 44 people and left hundreds injured, according to state media.
As dawn broke to reveal the extent of the devastation, many of the developments close to the blast site -- near-complete luxury apartments and office buildings in the up-and-coming Binhai New District - appeared relatively intact, except for shattered windows and the odd object crashing into a facade.But alongside the pristine new buildings that epitomise China's rise sat twisted metal, torn off roofs and burnt out huts -- remnants of the flimsy metal structures that house workers, and looked instead like crumpled, discarded sweet wrappers.
A dormitory destroyed by the shockwave of a nearby explosion is seen in the northeastern China's Tianjin municipality. (AP Photo)
Paramedics stretchered the wounded into the city's hospitals as doctors bandaged up victims, many of them covered in blood after the impact of an enormous fireball was felt for several kilometres (miles).
A doctor wept as the body of a firefighter still in uniform was wheeled by, his skin blackened from smoke.
Brightly coloured bedding was exposed to the morning sun, some stained with splatters of blood.
Construction worker Wang He lived in one of the dormitories, less than a kilometre from the blast, and awoke with a jolt, hitting his head on the ceiling.
"I saw a huge fireball, felt a hot wind on my face and then heard one of the loudest sounds in my life," the 26-year-old told AFP.
"After I got over the shock, our workers' dormitory looked as if a giant had punched the side of the building."
Wang and about a dozen of his coworkers were waiting in Gangkou Hospital's emergency room, where migrant workers were the only patients still being treated.
He is from the poor central province of Henan, and one of the hundreds of millions of low-paid, hard-working labourers who have poured into China's cities from the countryside over the past two decades.
They have powered the boom that has made the country the world's second-largest economy, but not always equally shared in its benefits.
At the city's TEDA hospital, close to the blast site, security guard Zhang Hongjie, 50, sat with his head wrapped in bandages, his arms peppered with small cuts from flying glass.
"The explosion was terrifying, and I almost passed out," he told AFP. "I'm sorry, I still can't think straight, I'm a bit confused," he said, adding he was homeless after his dormitory was destroyed.
Damaged vehicles are seen near the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin (Reuters Photo)
Broken glass from shattered windows littered the ground as far away as three kilometres (two miles) from the blast site.
A guard stood outside a bank branch whose entrance was completely destroyed, water from burst pipes slowly flooding the floor.