Lebanese rescue workers searched for survivors in the mangled wreckage of buildings as investigators blamed negligence for a massive warehouse explosion that sent a calamitous blast wave across Beirut. So far, the devastating explosion has killed at least 135 Lebanese.
The blast injured around 5,000 people at Beirut port and up to 250,000 Lebanese find themselves without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.
The death toll was expected to rise from a blast that officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.
BLAST RATTLED BUILDING ON THE ISLAND OF CYPRUS
The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut. The gem on the Mediterranean is still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. The blast rattled buildings as far away as the island of Cyprus located 100 miles away.
The Port Authorities stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for six years at the port after seizing the tonnage from a ship. No safety measures were in place to secure the site.
Michel Aoun, President of Lebanon who answers to Hezbollah, said in a national address;
[the government was] determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable.
Aoun said the same thing about the pilfering of funds that led an economic disaster. Accountability remains in short supply in the Hezbollah era.
An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence”. He said that “nothing was done” by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.
The cabinet ordered the security forces to place under house arrests port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014. The cabinet also announced a two-week state of emergency in Beirut.
The Telegraph of London wrote that Lebanon impounded a Russian ship in 2014. It described the situation by writing:
And all because Igor Grechushkinof, the Russian owner of the Rhosus ship, carrying the deadly cargo from Georgia to Mozambique, declared bankruptcy on an unscheduled stop, and was forced to abandon it there.
THE DEVASTATING EXPLOSION HAS KILLED AT LEAST 135
Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in Lebanon’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.
Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut, said:
This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon. I really blame the ruling class.
The health minister told Al Manar television that the death toll had risen to 135, with some 5,000 wounded and tens still missing. The hunt for victims continues after shockwaves from the blast hurled some into the sea.
Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still unaccounted for. Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour.
The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues. The casualties overwhelmed local hospitals.
Sara, one of Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center nurses, said:
[the center was] like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told broadcaster LBC the blast had caused damage worth up to $5 billion. It also left up to 250,000 people without homes.
Offers of international support poured in. Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies.
The United States, Britain, France and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered help. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialized search and rescue teams.
The port’s decommission disabled the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people. Will Lebanon now turn to Syria for trade thus defying the sanctions?
WILL LEBANON TURN TO SYRIA FOR TRADE THUS DEFYING THE SANCTIONS?
For many, it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore Lebanon apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut.
Officials did not say what caused the initial blaze at the port that set off the blast. A security source and media said welding work started the blast. However, that may not be possible because it is very difficult to ignite ammonium nitrate.
Beirut driver Abou Khaled said ministers “are the first that should be held accountable for this disaster. They committed a crime against the people of this nation with their negligence.”
The port district looked like a war zone and a tangled wreck. Its decommission disabled the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.
Lebanon has already been struggling to house and feed refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria. It has no trade or other ties with its only other neighbor Israel. Will Lebanon now turn to Syria for trade thus defying the sanctions?
Roland Alford, managing director of British explosive ordnance disposal firm Alford Technologies, said:
On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb. This is huge.
The blast came three days before a U.N.-backed court delivers a verdict in the trial of four suspects from Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.
Hezbollah killed Hariri using a big truck bomb on another part of the Beirut waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.
Reuters contributed to this article.