MAS­SIVE EX­PLO­SION ROCKS BEIRUT

Ex­plo­sion leaves cap­i­tal a ‘de­stroyed city’

Windsor Star - - NEWS - DANA KHRAICHE

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.

STR / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

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.

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