The blasts occurred in a warehouse storing hazardous goods and two explosions within seconds apart sent huge fireball into the air and rocked nearby buildings to collapse.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has urged an all-out effort to rescue victims and extinguish the fire, reports said.
Pictures posted on Chinese media websites showed towering clouds of dust enveloping buildings near the scene, and streets littered with debris from the blasts.
The China Earthquake Networks Centre said the magnitude of the first explosion was the equivalent of detonating three tonnes of explosive TNT, while the second was the equivalent of 21 tonnes of the explosive.
The fire ravaged the industrial area in the northeast Chinese port city of Tianjin for hours, and around 100 fire engines were deployed to the scene, reports said.
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