Updated: August 5, 2020 11:22:24 pm
The death toll in the Beirut blast rose to 135, and around 5,000 people were injured, reported The Guardian quoting Lebanese news channel Al Manar TV. The government also declared a two-week state of emergency, effectively giving the military full powers during this time, even as President Michael Aoun vowed before a Cabinet meeting today that the investigation would be transparent and that those responsible will be punished.
Residents of Beirut – stunned, sleepless and stoic – emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes.
The blast, which flattened much of the city’s port, is said to have been caused by seized explosives stored in a warehouse at the port. But initial investigations indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material in Beirut port, an official source familiar with the findings told Reuters.
Two US officials told the Associated Press that there are no indications that the massive explosion was the result of an attack by either a nation state or proxy forces. A senior Defense Department official and a member of the U.S. intelligence community told AP that, at the moment, the explosion appears to have been caused by improper storage of explosions. Both individuals spoke Wednesday to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss intelligence briefings publicly.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in a short televised speech, appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation, saying: “We are witnessing a real catastrophe.” He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price, without commenting on the cause.
Fireworks and ammonium nitrate appear to have been the fuel that ignited a massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, experts and videos of the blast suggest, according to AP. The scale of the damage – from the epicentre of the explosion at the port of Beirut to the windows blown out kilometres (miles) away – resembles other blasts involving the chemical compound commonly used as an agricultural fertiliser.
The resulting explosion – hitting with the force of a 3.5-magnitude earthquake – was the biggest ever seen in Beirut, a city blasted by a 1975-1990 civil war, bombarded in conflicts with Israel and hit by periodic terror attacks.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he will travel to Lebanon to offer support after a massive, deadly explosion in Beirut, his office said, as reported by AP. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties. Russia has also decided to send five planeloads of aid to Beirut.
EU to rush rescuers, search dogs to look for survivors trapped in rubble
In a statement today, 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 read.
On Tuesday, the country’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared a national day of mourning soon after the blast occurred. He said those responsible for the “catastrophe” would be held to account. President Michel Aoun called for “urgent” defence council talk in the aftermath of the explosion.
Marwan Abboud, the Governor of Beirut, broke down on national television as he toured the site of the incident. “Beirut is a devastated city. Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that ‘those responsible will pay’,” he told reporters. Read in Malayalam
A civil defense official at the scene of the blast said his men had evacuated dozens to hospitals and that there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris. The injured are overwhelming Beirut’s hospitals, already struggling with coronavirus patients.
— Ahmer Khan (@ahmermkhan) August 4, 2020
Dozens of ambulances ferried the injured from the port area, where the wounded lay on the ground, The Associated Press staff at the scene said. Hospitals called for blood donations.
Video taken by residents showed a fire raging at the port, sending up a giant column of smoke, illuminated by flashes of what appear to be fireworks. The fire then appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering a bigger explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave over the city.
Residents told news agency AP that windows were blown off and false ceilings dropped following the blast. An AP photographer near Beirut’s port witnessed people wounded on the ground and widespread destruction in central Beirut.
BREAKING: Massive explosion in Beirut. Footage from the daily star office now in Lebanon pic.twitter.com/2uBsKP5wCH
— Ghada Alsharif (@GhadaaSharif) August 4, 2020
My apartment in Beirut was just blown apart. We think it was a missile from a jet. We’re ok.
— Leila Molana-Allen (@Leila_MA) August 4, 2020
UPDATE: Fmr PM Saad Hariri is fine following news.
Two explosions near port in Beirut #Lebanon , second one left lot of damages in houses and cars. Ambulances called to area.
Another video shows magnitude of when it happened pic.twitter.com/lV9p5qMxbu
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) August 4, 2020
— Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (@ASE) August 4, 2020
— SV News 🚨 (@SVNewsAlerts) August 4, 2020
The economic crisis in our country – already worsened by US sanctions – is about to get much worse. pic.twitter.com/vxycOYVrCm
— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) August 4, 2020
— Frummel (@_Frummel_) August 4, 2020
The blast came at a time when Lebanon’s economy was struggling under a financial crisis, tackling the coronavirus pandemic with restrictions and amid rising tensions between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group along Lebanon’s southern border. The explosion took place only three days before a UN-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.
In pictures | Huge explosion rocks Beirut
Putting to bed speculation, an Israeli government official said the country had “nothing to do” with the blast. 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 Israel would not hesitate to strike again if it felt it was necessary. However, late Tuesday, Israel offered help to Lebanon. Benny Gantz, the country’s defence minister, offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, put out a tweet in support of Lebanon. “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,” he tweeted.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was monitoring the situation in Beirut. “Our team in Beirut has reported to me the extensive damage to a city and a people that I hold dear, an additional challenge in a time of already deep crisis,” he said in a statement.
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.
The Indian Embassy in Lebanon also put out two helpline numbers for Indians in need (017412270/01735922/01738418).
2 big explosions heard in Central Beirut this evening. Everyone is advised to stay calm. Any Indian community member in need of any help, may contact our Help Line. @MEAIndia @SecySanjay pic.twitter.com/xWlgU8WdNB
— India in Lebanon (@IndiaInLebanon) August 4, 2020
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(With inputs from AP, Reuters and AFP)
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