It’s not difficult to understand why Xi Jinping might have, as Willie Lam alleges, entertained the notion that this was some sort of sabotage strike against his rule.
Shortly before 9:00 a.m., the captain ordered his men to steam the hold, a firefighting method where steam is piped in to put out fires, in the hope of preserving the cargo. This action was unlikely to have been effective as ammonium nitrate produces its own oxygen, thereby neutralizing the extinguishing properties of the steam. The steam may have even contributed to the fire by converting the ammonium nitrate to nitrous oxide, while augmenting the already intense heat in the ship's hold.
At 9:12 a.m., the ammonium nitrate reached an explosive threshold from the combination of heat and pressure; the vessel then detonated, causing great destruction and damage throughout the port. The tremendous blast sent a 15-foot (4.5 m) wave that was detectable nearly 100 miles (160 km) off the Texas shoreline. The blast leveled nearly 1,000 buildings on land. The Grandcamp explosion destroyed the Monsanto Chemical Company plant and resulted in ignition of refineries and chemical tanks on the waterfront. Falling bales of burning twine from the ship's cargo added to the damage while the Grandcamp's anchor was hurled across the city. Two sightseeing airplanes flying nearby had their wings shorn off, forcing them out of the sky. 10 miles (16 km) away, people in Galveston were forced to their knees. People felt the shock 250 miles (400 km) away in Louisiana. The explosion blew almost 6,350 short tons (5,760 metric tons) of the ship's steel into the air, some at supersonic speed. Official casualty estimates came to a total of 567, including all the crewmen who remained on board the Grandcamp. All but one member of the 29-man Texas City volunteer fire department were killed in the initial explosion on the docks while fighting the shipboard fire, and with the fires raging throughout Texas City, first responders from other areas were initially unable to reach the site of the disaster.
Thank goodness the Tianjin blast was a relative piker.