Army personnel and rescue workers sifted through mountains of rubble from a massive explosion that flattened Lebanon’s main port, looking for survivors from a blast that roared through the capital, Beirut, killing at least 100 people and wounding thousands more.
Authorities appealed to other countries for emergency aid as concerns over food supply in the import-dependent nation mounted. Officials blamed highly explosive ammonium nitrate equivalent to 1,800 tons of TNT that had been stored at the port for years, without saying what triggered the blast. Among the pledges of support, France said it would send medical supplies and doctors by Thursday, while Germany offered members of its armed forces to aid search operations.
In Lebanon, outrage over the government’s role in the calamity ran high in a country already groaning under the weight of the worst financial crisis in its history, and a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.
Dozens of people gathered in downtown Beirut as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri inspected the damage, beating cars in his convoy and shouting “They killed Beirut.”
The explosion was so powerful that it was heard in Cyprus, and severely damaged buildings miles away. Massive shipping containers were flipped upside down as if they were toys, and cranes melted under the intense fire that still burned on Wednesday, and was being doused by helicopters whirring above.
Aerial footage shows the total destruction of buildings caused by the #BeirutBlast. The explosion was so large it blew out windows across Beirut. “It’s like an apocalypse,” lawmaker Yassine Jaber told Bloomberg. “Pure negligence and that’s the ultimate manifestation of how bad governance has been in Lebanon, with no accountability whatsoever, a manifestation of failure that should jolt us to wake up.”
Hospitals, already stretched to capacity by the virus emergency, were overwhelmed by a casualty toll that climbed throughout the night. At least 4,000 were injured, and dozens were missing.
The army cordoned off the port, through which much of Lebanon’s food and other supplies enter. The nation imports nearly all of its needs from abroad, including wheat and fuel, which the central bank has been subsidising from its dwindling reserves. Wheat silos at the port were damaged, and their contents — equal to about six weeks of the country’s needs — were rendered unfit for consumption, Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said.
Nehme will be meeting with wheat importers and formulating a response plan, his office said. “The damage is massive at the port and it will take a very long time to fix and build,” Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told a local television station. The port at Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli, will serve as the alternative, possibly backed up by facilities in Sidon and Tyre, Najjar said.
The Beirut port handles 6 million tons of shipments a year.