MASSIVE EXPLOSION ROCKS BEIRUT
Explosion leaves capital a ‘destroyed city’
Dozens dead, thousands injured in devastating blast
A massive explosion at Lebanon’s main port rocked Beirut, overwhelming hospitals dealing with the injured and dying. The blast was so large it blew out windows across the capital and was even heard from Cyprus.
Authorities say it was caused by highly explosive materials at the port, but didn’t say whether it was an accident or an attack. The casualty toll continued to climb through the night on Tuesday, with the health minister saying around 11 p.m. that 67 people were killed and some 3,600 injured.
Video footage showed what appeared to be a fire, followed by crackling lights and then a much larger explosion as an enormous cloud of smoke rapidly engulfed the area around the Port of Beirut. Buildings in the area and kilometres away were severely damaged, including the electricity company and other government entities.
The aftermath of the explosion left people rushing for help on foot and motorbikes, some with blood streaming over their faces, outside a Beirut hospital. One hospital said it had taken in 400 people and others appealed for blood donations, saying they’d reached their capacity.
“Beirut has never seen anything like this before,” Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told reporters near the scene, comparing it to the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. “It is a destroyed city, people lying on the streets, damage everywhere.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab described the blast as a “major national disaster” and vowed to hold those responsible accountable. He said the depot where the blast happened had been there since 2014.
“Preliminary information indicates that there was highly explosive material that was confiscated a while back and stored,” Interior Minister Mahdmoud Fehme told a television station.
The explosion took place during the first of a twoday grace period that the government had given citizens before it reinforces a full lockdown with a curfew to contain the coronavirus epidemic after the country saw a major spike in cases in recent weeks.
Traffic was heavy throughout the day as people flooded the capital and other areas. Myriam Sawma, 31, was among the many who left their homes to buy essentials before the lockdown resumed.
“I was at the mall and we heard the first blast and then another and complete white smoke covered the area.
People were screaming and running everywhere,” said Sawma.
Beirut and its suburbs are home to many embassies, non-governmental organizations and most government entities and agencies as well as ministries and headquarters of political parties. The general secretary of the Kataeb Party, Nizar Najarian, was killed in the explosion. He was chairing a meeting for the party at its headquarters, near the site of the blast.
Debris has covered the entire port, damaging trucks and other shipping containers. Black smoke could still be seen billowing into the sky hours after the blast. The port receives handles 6 million tons of shipments a year and is the country’s main port.
Lebanon is reeling under its worst financial and economic crisis, with a sharp plunge in its local currency eroding purchasing power and throwing many into poverty and unemployment. The government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion bailout and has tried to collect aid from Gulf countries, but to no avail.
Gulf countries are wary that any funds would be channelled to Hezbollah, the
Iran-backed militant group that’s listed by those countries and the United States as a terrorist group. The foreign minister resigned earlier this week, saying Lebanon could become a failed state.
A shortage of U.S. dollars has wreaked havoc on an economy almost completely reliant on imported goods. The central bank is using whatever is left of its reserves to subsidize the import of wheat, fuel and medicine and has recently said it would help import essential food items, albeit at a weaker exchange rate.
Apart from the financial crisis, Lebanon was also bracing for a verdict from a United Nations-backed court on Friday in the case of the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has accused four members of Hezbollah of having a role in the killing, which was a turning point in the country’s modern history.
Hezbollah has denied the allegations and said it would not hand over the suspects, describing the court as an Israeli tool aimed at sowing strife. Lebanon and Israel are technically still in a state of war.
Israel and Hezbollah said they had nothing to do with the explosion.
PEOPLE WERE SCREAMING AND RUNNING EVERYWHERE.
A helicopter assists in firefighting efforts at the scene of Tuesday’s deadly blast in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday that those responsible for the explosion will be held accountable.