Beirut wakes to scenes of devastation after a horrific port explosion, over 100 dead, thousands wounded
Wednesday morning sees residents of Beirut waking to utter devastation, a day after a massive explosion at the port, residents begin to mourn the deaths of at least 100 people and the thousands wounded.
Smoke was still visible from the port where a towering grain silo had been shattered. The streets littered with debris, building facades have been blown out and damaged vehicles scattered around. At hospitals across the city, people have been waiting all night to hear news of loved ones who had gone missing or where wounded. Many requests for help were heard online.
According to an official with the Lebanese Red Cross, at least 100 people were killed and over 4,000 injured. The official added the toll could continue to rise.
It is still unclear what caused the blast – which appeared to be triggered by a fire – which struck with the force of an earthquake. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was on the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war and had endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.
Lebanon was already on the brink of collapse amid a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months. Its healthcare system is battling a surge in Covid-19 cases and facing concerns the virus could spread further as people flooded into hospitals.
Hospitals are full in Beirut. This is one of many. pic.twitter.com/OFE40nghyP
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 5, 2020
Ammonium nitrate stored in warehouse
The Interior Minister told a local TV station it appears the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.
Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud which is similar to what appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
Videos across social media show what appears to be a fire with heavy grey smoke erupting, spreading to a nearby building and triggering the explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.
This is horrific, and the clearest video I’ve seen so far of what seems to have happened in Beirut. There’s a smaller fire involving what seems to be fireworks first, and then everything goes up. pic.twitter.com/qsEmH1IbUi
— Rachael Venables (@rachaelvenables) August 4, 2020
“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war,” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 metres from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.
The explosion crumbled numerous apartment buildings, potentially leaving large numbers of people homeless at a time when many Lebanese have lost their jobs and seen their savings disappear because of a currency crisis. The explosion further raises concerns about how Lebanon will continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.
Food security crisis
The issue of food security in Lebanon, a tiny country already hosting over 1 million Syrians, is another crisis.
The port’s major grain silo is run by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade. Footage from The Associated Press shows the explosion tore open those grain silos, dumping the contents into the debris and earth thrown up by the blast. Some 80% of Lebanon’s wheat supply is imported, according to the US Agriculture Department.
Estimates suggest some 85% of the country’s grain was stored in the now-destroyed silos.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency quoted the minister of economy and trade as saying that all the wheat stored at the facility had been “contaminated” and couldn’t be used. But insisted Lebanon had enough wheat for its immediate needs and more would be imported.
Lebanon’s current economic crisis is rooted in decades of systemic corruption and poor governance by the political class that has ruled the country since the end of the civil war. Mass protesting over the last few months have seen the public call for sweeping political change but few of their demands have been met as the economic situation steadily worsens.
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