Lebanon assesses aftermath of massive Beirut explosions
Residents of Beirut awoke to a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after a massive explosion at the port sent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 100 people and wounding thousands.
"Houses, buildings, dead bodies in the streets, injuries," reported CBS News producer Sami Aouad. "Hospitals couldn't accept more injuries and bodies because they were full. Beirut is a destroyed city. It is like a real war zone."
Smoke was still rising from the port, where towering grain silos had been shattered. Major downtown streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out. The Secretary General of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said at least 100 people had been killed and more than 4,000 had been wounded, according to Lebanon's state media, NNA.
"The disaster is unprecedented," Kettaneh told NNA.
At hospitals across the city, people had been waiting all night for news of loved ones who had gone missing or were wounded. Others posted requests for help online, on social media accounts that had been created after the blast. One Instagram account, "LocateVictimsBeirut," was trying to help people find the missing by posting photos and contact information. Another, "Open_Houses_Lebanon," was offering shelter to those who had lost their homes.
The blast destroyed numerous apartment buildings, leaving as many as 300,000 people homeless, the Beirut's, Marwan Abboud, said. He added that nearly half of the city had been damaged.
The explosion also raised concerns about how Lebanon would continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated. Estimates suggest some 85% of the country's grain was stored at the now-destroyed silos, raising the prospect of food insecurity at a time when many Lebanese have lost their jobs and seen their savings evaporate because of a currency crisis.
International aid in the form of emergency workers and medical personnel was being sent to Lebanon by countries around the world. France said it was sending a mobile medical unit to treat some 500 victims. Jordan said it was dispatching a military field hospital, and Egypt opened a field hospital in Beirut to receive the wounded.
Gulf Arab states offered various forms of support, though any sustained financial assistance is complicated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group's presence in government and on the ground.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Tuesday's explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate — used as a fertilizer in agriculture and as an explosive — that had been stored unsafely in a warehouse. It was the most powerful blast ever seen in the city, which was on the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighboring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.
Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
Videos showed what looked like a fire erupting nearby just before, and local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The fire appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering the explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.
A two-weeks state of emergency was declared in Lebanon, and the country will officially observe three days of mourning from Wednesday.
Lebanon was already in the midst of an economic crisis rooted in decades of systemic corruption and poor governance by the political class that has been in power since the end of the civil war. The tiny Mediterranean nation recently saw mass protests calling for sweeping political change, but few of those demands were met as the economic situation has steadily worsened.
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