As the fatalities reached 50 from the blasts Wednesday night in Tianjin, China, rescue workers combed the rubble of the city’s flattened warehouse district for bodies while hundreds of people crowded hospitals.

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TIANJIN, China — This bustling port city about a 90-minute drive from the Chinese capital confronted scenes of death and devastation Thursday — huge gray plumes of smoke, vast parking lots of charred vehicles, blocks of high-rises with their blown-out windows — and questions about what had caused the explosions at a warehouse storing a witches’ brew of toxic chemicals.

As the fatalities reached 50 from the blasts Wednesday night, rescue workers combed the rubble of the city’s flattened warehouse district for bodies while hundreds of people crowded hospitals. Throughout the day, hundreds more lined up to donate blood in the wilting heat.

The blasts, at a company licensed to store hazardous chemicals, left more than 500 people wounded, 52 of them critically, and produced shock waves felt for miles.

Many of the wounded were hit by flying glass and other debris as thousands of apartment windows blew in, some more than a mile from the site of the explosions.

At least 12 of the dead were firefighters who had responded to earlier reports of a blaze at the chemical-storage site run by Ruihai International Logistics, a 4-year-old company that unloads and stores hazardous cargo, the state news media and government officials said.

Officials have not explained precisely how firefighters sought to extinguish the initial blaze. But at least some of the stored chemicals were known to produce flammable gas when wet, raising the possibility that the firefighters might have inadvertently contributed to the disaster if they sprayed the flames with water.

The blast also sent the port city’s shipping containers tumbling into one another, leaving them in bent, charred piles. Rows of new cars, lined up on vast lots for distribution across China, were reduced to blackened carcasses.

Ships carrying oil and “hazardous products” were barred from the port Thursday, the Tianjin Maritime Safety Administration said on its official microblog. It also said vessels were not allowed to enter the central port zone, which is near the blast site.

Tianjin is the 10th-largest port in the world by container volume, according to the World Shipping Council, moving more containers than the ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Los Angeles. It handles vast quantities of metal ore, coal, steel, cars and crude oil.

On Thursday afternoon, fires at the site continued to produce a steady cloud of smoke after Tianjin officials, unsure about the nature of the chemicals, decided to let the blazes burn out on their own. The state news media also reported that a military team of specialists in handling chemicals had been sent to Tianjin.

Residents of the Binhai district, frustrated by the lack of reliable information, said they were unsure whether the air was safe, and many people continued to wear disposable face masks throughout the day.

The devastation was worst in the port area, a sparsely populated expanse of warehouses and parking lots nearly 40 miles from the heart of Tianjin. Had the blast occurred during the day, the death toll would have most likely been far higher. Favorable winds Thursday also shielded residents from greater harm by blowing the toxic plume out to sea.

Ruihai’s website was inaccessible, and calls to the company were met with a busy signal. Also inaccessible was the website for the Tianjin Administration for Industry and Commerce, the agency that collects information about companies, their executives and shareholders. In a social-media post, the agency said the blast had forced it to close down temporarily.

According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, the company stored a collection of toxic industrial chemicals, including sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate and calcium carbide. The company was also licensed to handle highly combustible substances such as compressed and liquefied natural gas.

In a statement Thursday, Greenpeace warned that many of the substances posed worrying threats to human health. It said that sodium cyanide, a compound used in mining, is especially toxic, while toluene diisocyanate, used to make of polyurethane products, is a carcinogen and highly explosive.

With rain forecast for Friday, Greenpeace warned about the danger of airborne pollutants seeping into groundwater.

At a news conference Thursday, Wen Wurui, a senior environmental official, played down the threat of contaminated air.