DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're learning more about why there were massive explosions at a warehouse in China last week that killed more than a hundred people. China state media is reporting that an owner of the warehouse that blew up says he used political influence to get around safety standards. For more on this, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai. Frank, good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: And good morning, David.
GREENE: So there seems to be a really important development here. Tell me about this co-owner of the warehouse. What's his story, and what's he saying?
LANGFITT: Well, David, the guy's name is Dong Shexuan. He was a major shareholder in Rui Hai International Logistics. That's the company that owned the warehouse. More importantly, he's the son of the former police chief for the Tianjin Port, which is where this happened. And right now, Dong is in police custody, and he had gave this kind of confession interview to the government's new China News Service. And what he said is he used his dad's connections to get the warehouse approved. Now, legally, the warehouse with these kinds of dangerous chemicals, it's got to be a thousand meters from residential neighborhoods for safety reasons. But actually, it was just about maybe half the distance. And that's why we had so many apartments that were destroyed, and so many people died.
GREENE: Well, Frank, this sounds pretty significant here if this owner is saying that he, you know, used connections to, basically, get something approved that was putting a lot of people in danger.
LANGFITT: Well, it confirms what everybody thought. I mean, when I heard this, that it was really close to the residential neighborhood, I assumed this is exactly what happened. And this is what most everybody in China figured because that's kind of how China works. This is an intensely corrupt system that's built on relationships. Officials routinely will cut corners for people with connections or to make money. And also I will say this. People believe the police officer's son and what he says, but they think there's a lot more to this story. There are more people involved.
Either way, when you look at the cost, it was catastrophic. I mean, the warehouse stored 3,000 tons of dangerous chemicals. They were doing that for a seven-month period where they didn't even have a license. So clearly, they're politically protected. The damage to homes is more than 17,000 homes, more than 700 people injured, and 49 firefighters are still missing.
GREENE: Well, and people affected by this, I mean, families of people who died are missing. I mean, how are they reacting to this?
LANGFITT: Well, I didn't talk to any who have family members who are missing in conversations today. I couldn't get through to them. But I did talk to four separate homeowners, and what was interesting was when I said, hey, how about this big story about the police chief's son? They didn't want to talk about it. They pretended they didn't know about it.
GREENE: Why would they pretend to not know about it?
LANGFITT: Scared of the government. One said the government's already mad at these people for asserting their rights and making a stir about it and trying to get compensation. And the other thing is they tell these people don't want them talking to foreign reporters like me. Second, frankly, some of the homeowners, they're looking for compensation, and they know that the more they criticize the government publicly, the less money they're going to get.
GREENE: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt, speaking to us from Shanghai about a confession from one of the co-owners of that warehouse that blew up last week in China. Frank, thanks very much.
LANGFITT: You're very welcome, David.
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