Beirut blast: At least 100 people dead and injuring 4,000 many still rapped under rubble after deadly massive explosion

Hospitals struggle to cope with thousands of wounded after huge blast ripped through the capital’s port

In a country already reeling from an economic crisis, the full scale of the calamity became apparent as the city woke on Wednesday morning, with rescue teams searching through the debris of ruined neighbourhoods for the missing, and hospitals buckling under the weight of thousands of casualties.

Lebanon is in mourning and surveying the damage to its capital Beirut after a massive explosion ripped through the city’s port and surrounding areas on Tuesday, killing at least 100 people and injuring 4,000 with many still feared to be trapped under rubble.

A Lebanese Red Cross official said on Wednesday morning the death toll had reached at least 100, with smoke still rising from the port and downtown streets littered with upturned cars and the ruins of shattered buildings.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettaneh told a local broadcaster. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

Soldiers were at the site clearing rubble and helicopters were passing over dropping water to put out the smouldering remains.

Hospitals were still overrun with wounded people and others searching for loved ones, with pages springing up online listing pictures of the missing and begging for information of their whereabouts.

Beirut governor Marwan Abboud told a local radio station that more than 100 people remain missing, including several firefighters. “Beirut has never gone through what it went through yesterday,” he said.

Beirut explosion: scores dead and thousands hurt as blast rips through city

A two-week state of emergency has been recommended by the president, after authorities blamed a huge store of the highly reactive chemical ammonium nitrate for the explosion that sent a shockwave across the city, shattering windows, collapsing roofs and rendering homes uninhabitable.

The blast, at 6:08pm local time on Tuesday, was so powerful it was felt in Cyprus, 120 miles away.

It left cars with blown out windows strewn on highways and a city in shock. Footage posted on social media showed whole neighbourhoods in ruins.

“There are many people missing. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity,” Health Minister Hamad Hasan told Reuters.

President Michel Aoun declared a three-day mourning period, and said the government would release 100 billion lira (£50.5m; $66m) of emergency funds.

In the immediate aftermath, Beirutis stood among the dust and the debris, the shards of glass and the burning buildings, and they cried for help.

At the port on Tuesday evening, a woman in her twenties stood at the gates, screaming at security forces, asking about the fate of her brother, an employee inside.

“His name is Jad, his eyes are green,” she pleaded, but security forces were resolute in their refusal to let her enter. Nearby another woman almost fainted while also asking about her brother who also worked at the port.

A soldier stationed there said: “it’s a catastrophe inside”. “There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead.”

Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored unsafely in a warehouse for six years. He scheduled an urgent cabinet meeting for Wednesday, and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared.

Video footage appeared to show two blasts, with some witness accounts suggesting the initial conflagration sounded “like fireworks”. The first plume of smoke was then suddenly consumed by a massive fireball and white cloud, sending a shockwave scudding across the city.

The blasts destroyed wheat in the port’s granaries, prompting fears of a looming food crisis across a nation already suffering bread shortages and paralysed by the twin crises of coronavirus and an economic meltdown.

Lebanon imports about 90% of its wheat – used for making the country’s staple flatbread – with the vast majority coming through the destroyed port. The port granaries held about 85% of the country’s cereals.

But the most immediate fear was for the casualties, and a health system already straining because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the aftermath of the blast, thousands of people sought treatment in nearby hospitals, which were struggling to cope, or had been incapacitated by the blast.

A doctor at St George’s hospital, less than 2km (1.2 miles) from the blast, said injured people were being brought for treatment but the hospital had been destroyed.

“They’re bringing people to the hospital but we can’t receive them,” he said. “They’re treating them outside in the street. The hospital is broken, the ER is broken.”

A security source told AFP that victims of the blast had been 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.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross Georges Kettaneh told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.” The Red Cross issued an urgent call for blood donations.

The US embassy in Beirut warned residents in the city about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks if available.

President Donald Trump fuelled the confusion swirling in the hours following the explosion, by referring to it in off-the-cuff remarks as “an attack”, adding that “some of our great generals” had told him “it was a bomb of some kind”.

Two US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was unclear from where Trump was receiving his information but that initial information did not appear to show that the explosion was an attack.

Israel has denied any responsibility and offered humanitarian and medical aid.

The final death toll is expected to climb significantly as rescue teams begin combing through damaged buildings.

Witnesses describes scenes of chaos and panic.

“It was like an atomic bomb,” said Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-70s who has lived near the port for decades.

“I’ve experienced everything, but nothing like this before,” even during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, she said.

“All the buildings around here have collapsed. I’m walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark.”

The destruction comes as Lebanon is grappling with an economic crisis that has slashed incomes and jobs and led to soaring nationwide poverty, and also amid rising tensions between Israel and Hezbollah along Lebanon’s southern border.

The British prime minister confirmed that UK nationals were among those caught up in the aftermath of the explosions. All staff at the British embassy in Beirut had been accounted for, but some have sustained “non-life-threatening injuries”, Boris Johnson said.

The Australian prime minister said one Australian national had died.

The United Nations reported that 48 of its staff in Beirut, 27 of their family members and three visitors were among the wounded.

Arab Observer

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