On Tuesday evening in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut, two huge explosions in its port sent an enormous blast wave across the city, killing at least 137 people and injuring around 5,000 more. The scale of the damage is huge, with buildings miles from the port lying in ruin. The blast comes at a terrible time for Lebanon, which is on the brink of financial collapse.
Up to 300,000 people had suffered damage to their homes, leaving some uninhabitable. Dozens were still missing, feared dead.
Hospitals that were already dealing with the coronavirus crisis were quickly filled beyond capacity, and issued pleas for blood donations and generators to keep the lights going.
Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, said the cause of the explosion was 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. The warehouse that authorities claim was the site of the blast had been the subject of warnings going back to 2014, he said. He would “reveal facts” about the warehouse soon, he said, but did not want to pre-empt an investigation.
An unspecified number of port officials have been ordered to be placed under house arrest pending an investigation, which is scheduled to take five days.
The army took control of the site on Thursday on the first day of a two-week state of emergency.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said damage from the blast extended over half of Beirut, with the cost of damage likely above $3bn
On Wednesday Donald Trump continued to suggest that the explosion might have been a deliberate attack, even as officials in Lebanon and his own defence secretary, Mark Esper, said most believed it was an accident.
On Thursday the French president Emmanuel Macron visited the city. He said Lebanon was facing a political and economic crisis and that it would continue to suffer unless it enacted reforms.
The Lebanese economy minister, Raoul Nehme, said damage to the silos had left the country with less than a month’s grain reserves, but claimed there was no risk of food shortage. “There is no bread or flour crisis,” he said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term.”
Governments worldwide have offered support, including the UK, France, Australia, the US, Canada and Israel.
An Australian citizen and an employee at the German embassy in Beirut have been confirmed among the dead.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson offered the UK’s support and said that there were British nationals affected by the incident.