‘VIC­TIMS EV­ERY­WHERE’

78 dead, 4,000 hurt af­ter blast rocks Beirut

The Province - - NEWS - SAMIA NAKHOUL and ELLEN FRAN­CIS

BEIRUT — A pow­er­ful blast in port ware­houses near cen­tral Beirut stor­ing highly ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial killed 78 peo­ple, in­jured nearly 4,000 and sent seis­mic shock waves that shat­tered win­dows, smashed ma­sonry and shook the ground across the Le­banese cap­i­tal.

Of­fi­cials said they ex­pected the death toll to rise fur­ther af­ter Tues­day’s blast as emer­gency work­ers dug through rub­ble to res­cue peo­ple and re­move the dead.

It was the most pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion in years in Beirut, which is al­ready reel­ing from an eco­nomic cri­sis and a surge in coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions.

Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun said that 2,750 tonnes of am­mo­nium ni­trate, used in fer­til­iz­ers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port with­out safety mea­sures, and said it was “un­ac­cept­able.”

He called for an emer­gency cab­i­net meet­ing Wed­nes­day and said a two-week state of emer­gency should be de­clared.

“What we are wit­ness­ing is a huge catas­tro­phe,” the head of Le­banon’s Red Cross, Ge­orge Ket­tani, told broadcaste­r Mayadeen.

“There are vic­tims and ca­su­al­ties ev­ery­where.”

Hours af­ter the blast, which struck shortly af­ter 6 p.m., a fire still blazed in the port dis­trict, cast­ing an or­ange glow across the night sky as he­li­copters hov­ered and am­bu­lance sirens sounded across the cap­i­tal.

A se­cu­rity source said vic­tims were taken for treat­ment out­side the city be­cause Beirut hos­pi­tals were over­whelmed with wounded.

Am­bu­lances from the north and south of the coun­try and the Bekaa val­ley to the east were called in to help.

The huge blast re­vived mem­o­ries of the 1975-90 civil war and its af­ter­math, when Le­banese en­dured heavy shelling, car bomb­ings and Is­raeli air raids.

Some res­i­dents thought an earth­quake had struck.

Dazed, weep­ing and in­jured peo­ple walked through streets search­ing for rel­a­tives.

Oth­ers sought their miss­ing loved ones in the overflowin­g hos­pi­tals.

One medic said 200-300 peo­ple had been ad­mit­ted to a sin­gle emer­gency de­part­ment.

“I’ve never seen this. It was hor­ri­ble,” the medic, who gave her name as Rouba, told Reuters.

“The blast blew me off me­tres away. I was in a daze and was all cov­ered in blood. It brought back the vi­sion of an­other ex­plo­sion I wit­nessed against the U.S. em­bassy in 1983,” said Huda

Baroudi, a Beirut de­signer. Prime Min­is­ter Has­san Diab told the na­tion there’d be ac­count­abil­ity for the deadly blast at the “dan­ger­ous ware­house,” adding that “those re­spon­si­ble will pay the price.”

Footage of the ex­plo­sion shared by res­i­dents on so­cial me­dia showed a col­umn of smoke ris­ing from the port, fol­lowed by an enor­mous blast, send­ing up a white cloud and a fire­ball into the sky.

Those film­ing the in­ci­dent from high build­ings 2 km from the port were thrown back­ward by the shock.

Of­fi­cials did not say what caused the blaze that set off the blast.

A se­cu­rity source and lo­cal me­dia said it was started by weld­ing work be­ing car­ried out on a hole in the ware­house.

STR VIA GETTY IMAGES

MOUAFAC HARB/GETTY IMAGES

Smoke and flames rise above the blast site in these pho­to­graphs taken from a high­rise.

IBRAHIM AMRO/GETTY IMAGES

A man and a sol­dier carry an in­jured man to a hos­pi­tal in the af­ter­math of an ex­plo­sion. Be­low, a child and other in­jured peo­ple wait to en­ter a hos­pi­tal.

Fire­fight­ers douse a blaze at the scene of an ex­plo­sion at the port of Le­banon’s cap­i­tal Beirut Tues­day. Right, a he­li­copter tries to put out the flames.

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