Lebanese capital of Beirut wakes up to devastation

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 00:00 |
A picture taken yesterday shows the damaged grain silo and a burnt boat at Beirut’s harbour, one day after a powerful twin explosion tore through Lebanon’s capital, resulting from the ignition of a huge depot of ammonium nitrate at the city’s main port. Photo/AFP

Beirut, Wednesday

Search and rescue efforts continued in the Lebanese capital of Beirut as the city woke up to the devastating effects of an explosion at the city’s port on Tuesday evening.

The death toll from the explosion rose to at least 100 overnight, officials said, and at least 4,000 people were injured in the blast.

The city’s hospitals reached capacity soon after, meaning some of the wounded were forced to travel as far as Tripoli, 50 miles north, to receive treatment. At least three hospitals were damaged by the blast.

The Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning. Three days of mourning have been declared.

The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast.

Ammonium nitrate is the same fertilizer that was used to make explosives for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 25 years ago.

The ammonium nitrate appears to have been confiscated from a commercial cargo ship abandoned in Beirut in 2013, and then confiscated by the Lebanese authorities a year later.

According to lawyers who said they represented its crew, the ship, the Rhosus, was forced to dock due to technical issues in autumn 2013, and then forbidden to sail by the Lebanese authorities after they found violations during an inspection.

In a notice describing the legal dispute published on Ship Arrested, the lawyers wrote the ammonium was offloaded by Beirut’s port authorities and placed in warehouses to await auctioning or proper disposal.

Six years later, the confiscated ammonium nitrate had not been moved from the port’s warehouses.

The Lebanese Red Cross have made a series of urgent appeals for blood donations after they sent 75 ambulances and 375 paramedics to the scene.

Search and rescue teams continued to look for missing people around the site on Wednesday.

A firefighter at the port told ABC News that a team of 10 emergency responders who first responded to a fire at the scene, are missing, after potentially being caught in the explosion. -AFP

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