Updated: August 5, 2020 9:52:15 pm
An explosion in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, a country in western Asia, was Tuesday caught on camera and widely circulated on social media. The footage showed smoke billowing near the port area of the city, shortly before a powerful blast sent up a bigger cloud of smoke and a shockwave across the city, throwing the videographer off his feet.
It wasn’t just this footage. Multiple pictures and videos soon emerged from Beirut, capturing the destruction and fear the event caused.
Meanwhile, a two-week state emergency has been imposed in Beirut following the blast, reported Reuters.
Beirut explosion: What exactly happened?
There were two explosions in Beirut on Tuesday afternoon (local time), which occurred barely within minutes of each other. The explosions took place in the central port area of the city. In footage on social media, it appears as though the two blasts were triggered in different buildings. Following the first blast, the fire spread to a nearby building, triggering a bigger explosion.
How powerful was the explosion?
In Beirut, the blast affected residents living as far as 10 kilometres away from the site. It even damaged the Baabda Palace, the residence of the Lebanese President. “Doors and windows in several of the palace’ wings were dislocated,” NNA reported. However, no one was injured.
Meanwhile, the explosion was felt nearly 250 kilometres away, in the neighbouring island of Cyprus, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC).
CNN reported that the blast created seismic waves equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the scale of the losses “was too great to be described”, and the “biggest loss is the loss of dozens of dead and injured”.
What was the cause of the Beirut blast?
The blasts were likely triggered by confiscated explosives, stored by authorities near the port. Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security service, told state-run National News Agency, that “highly explosive materials” were stored in the buildings. These, he said, were seized by the government years ago.
In fact, flashes of what appear to be fireworks could be seen in the footage, following the first blast.
The National News Agency also reported that the source of the explosion was believed to be a major fire at a warehouse in the area.
Following the blasts, several locals also reported an orange cloud hanging over the city.
President Michel Aoun later said there was at least 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, stored at the port without safety measures.
Beirut blasts: How many people are dead, injured?
At the latest count, over 100 people were dead and more than 4,000 injured. Officials said the toll is expected to rise as rescue workers are still pulling people from the debris.
Following the blast, several wounded people were seen staggering through the city’s streets or lying on the floor, due to which several people are likely unaccounted for so far. Several people are also reported missing.
Among the dead is Nazar Najarian, the secretary-general of the Kataeb political party. He was in his office when the incident occurred. He succumbed to injuries.
How have other countries reacted?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said he was “shocked and saddened” by the incident. In a statement, he wrote: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families and the injured.”
US President Donald Trump said his country was ready to assist Lebanon. “Let me begin by sending America’s deepest sympathies to the people of Lebanon, where reports indicate that many, many people were killed, hundreds more were very badly wounded in a large explosion in Beirut. Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families. The United States ready to assist Lebanon,” he said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, also said the US was monitoring the situation.
UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab put out a tweet expressing solidarity with Lebanon. “My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the devastating explosion in Beirut today. The UK stands in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and is ready to offer help and support including to those British nationals impacted,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would send “rescue and aid” to Beruit, while Angela Merkel said Germany would offer Lebanon its help.
Iran, too, offered aid. Its foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted: “Our hearts are with the Lebanese people in this great disaster. Mercy for the martyrs, patience and solace for the families of the victims and recovery for the wounded. Peace from God and mercy to this proud nation.”
Subsequently, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said the EU Civil Protection Mechanism is now coordinating the urgent deployment of over a 100 highly trained firefighters, with vehicles, dogs and equipment, specialised in search and rescue in urban contexts. “They will work with the Lebanese authorities to save lives on the ground,” the statement from Lenarčič read.
As per Reuters, Turkey is also sending a search and rescue team, emergency medical staff, field hospital along with shipping emergency humanitarian and medical aid. Additionally, Turkey will be sending 400 tonnes of grain to Beirut, where only less than a month of grain is left after the destruction of silos in the port.
Why was Israel accused of the blast?
Israel and Lebanon have had no diplomatic relations since 1949. Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group are bitter enemies, and tensions have been high following a series of recent clashes. Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that Israel would not hesitate to strike again if it felt it was necessary.
However, following the incident, Israel offered to help the country with medical and humanitarian aid. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said, “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”
A statement released by the Israeli government also said: “Under the direction of Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel approached Lebanon through international defense and diplomatic channels to offer the Lebanese government medical humanitarian aid.”
Why the blast further complicates things for Lebanon
Further, the explosion took place three days before a United Nations-backed tribunal was set to give its verdict in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bombing more than 15 years ago.
Lebanon has declared a day of national mourning Wednesday.
After blast, Lebanon has less than a month’s grain reserves
Lebanon’s economy minister said Wednesday that the nation has less than a month’s reserves of the grain but enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said on Wednesday. Raoul Nehme told Reuters that the country’s needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.
(With inputs from AP/Reuters/agencies)
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