BEIRUT BLAST: WHAT WE KNOW
LAST week, a huge explosion devastated the port of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. Hundreds of people were killed or are missing and many thousands were injured. The disaster happened when thousands of tonnes of chemicals that were being stored unsafely ignited during a large warehouse fire.
If you’ve seen footage of the blast on the news or on social media, you’ll know just how dramatic it was.
What started off as a fire at the city’s port last Tuesday (4 August), soon turned into two separate explosions, including one that an expert in explosives called the world’s “largest ever non-nuclear blast”. Many buildings were completely destroyed, and the blast was so powerful that people living in Cyprus, over 150 miles away, actually felt the explosion and thought it was an earthquake.
Tragically, the incident resulted in the deaths of at least 200 people and injured more than 6,000 others, with many people still missing. The United Nations (UN) said that more than 100,000 children had been forced to leave their homes following the explosion.
Hospitals throughout the city – which were already busy dealing with the coronavirus pandemic – have been overrun by the blast. In fact, three of the city’s busiest hospitals were left “non-functional” because of the explosion, and three others have been “partially damaged”, putting huge amounts of pressure on remaining hospitals and health workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that “many facilities are overwhelmed”.
Due to a severe lack of hospital beds, patients are reportedly being transferred to hospitals across the country, some as far south as Saida and north of Tripoli, a couple of hours away from Beirut.
Lebanese president Michel Aoun said a fire in the port caused thousands of tonnes of an explosive material called ammonium nitrate to explode. The warehouse had been storing the explosive material unsafely for more than six years.
As survivors fight on and the city begins to pick up the pieces, many people in Beirut want answers and are demanding justice from their government. As First News went to press, Beirut had experienced several nights of violent protests, with rioters raging at how the government has handled the crisis. For a long time, many have accused the government of corruption (dishonest and illegal acts), and are furious that it allowed such a huge amount of potentially dangerous chemicals to be kept so close to the city centre.
On Monday evening (10 August), the entire Lebanese government resigned, stepping down because of the public uproar. Prime Minister Hassan Diab made the announcement in a speech on national TV, saying that “this crime” was a result of corruption that is “bigger than the state”.
The UN has warned that the people of Lebanon are in desperate need of food and medical aid and if these supplies do not reach them soon, the world risks a humanitarian crisis.
On Sunday (9 August), people from all over the world donated $297m (£227m) to help the crisis in Lebanon at a virtual summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.