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The New Arab Staff

Lebanon reels in wake of catastrophic Beirut explosion that left scores dead

The explosion was felt as far away as Cyprus [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 August, 2020

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Authorities have blamed the devastating blast on a years-old store of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at the Beirut port.
The New Arab is updating this story throughout the day to reflect the latest developments and casualty counts. Last update: 11:30 GMT / 14:30 Lebanon time

A colossal blast rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday evening, killing at least 100 people and wounding thousands more.

Likened by Beirut's governor to the nuclear blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the shockwave from the explosion was felt as far away as Cyprus - some 170 miles off the coast and damaged homes across the city.

It has caused significant damage to a Beirut already devastated by an economic crisis that has plunged thousands into poverty.

Authorities say the incident occurred after a fire at the Lebanon's primary port reached a warehouse storing more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible fertiliser kept there since 2014.

Videos showed a large fire at the port before the blast erupted, creating a black mushroom cloud and leaving behind a tall pillar of orange-tinted smoke.

At least 100 people have been confirmed dead, with more than 4,000 injured as of Wednesday. Hundreds more - many of them workers near the blast site - are missing, with relatives and friends posting desperate pleas for their whereabouts on Facebook and Instagram.
[Click to enlarge]


As many as 300,000 people have been made homeless, the governor of Beirut said on Wednesday. That figure is similar to the total homelessness count for the entire United Kingdom, a country with around 10 times the population of Lebanon.

Homes and businesses across the city have suffered damage few can afford to repair, with ceilings collapsed and windows shattered miles away by the powerful impact of the blast wave.

The damage extends over half of the city, Governor Marwan Abboud said on Wednesday, and is worth an estimated $3 to $5 billion.

Beirut's port - the main entrance for goods in the country which heavily relies upon imports - has been completely destroyed. 

Lebanon's cabinet is expected to meet on Wednesday to announce a two-week state of emergency in the wake of the blast.

Catastrophe

The true impact of the blast is not yet clear but analysts say the effects are catastrophic and will likely to be felt for years to come.

Lebanon was already in the midst of one of its worst economic crisis since its inception, with the local lira in freefall, amid a severe dollar shortage and rife unemployment.

Many Lebanese blame the ravaged economy on a political class in power since the civil war, which began in the 1970s and ended in 1990. 

Protesters took to the streets across Lebanon in mid-October, calling for the entrenched political elite to step down after presiding over years of corruption and financial mismanagement. 

The demonstrations - termed a "thowra" or "revolution" by Lebanese - led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. A new government led by Hassan Diab was put in place earlier this year.

But the material circumstances of Lebanese have only grown worse this year, with thousands plunged into poverty as the local currency continued to depreciate amid the global coronavirus crisis and a political class that has refused to commit to major reforms.
The blast site at the port as seen on Wednesday [Getty]
The effects of that economic crisis are clear in the streets of Beirut as first responders and medics deal with the aftermath of the blast.

On Tuesday evening, doctors and nurses were pictured tending to the injured under flashlights in the car park of a Beirut hospital, driven outside as the effects of the blast compounded weeks of near-total electricity outages.

Furious Lebanese also point to official corruption and negligence as being behind the devastating explosion.

Why did authorities allow the storage of hundreds of tonnes of highly combustable material near a residential area for more than six years, locals ask.

Some residents have issued renewed calls for the government's resignation.

Meanwhile, officials have deflected responsibility, pointing at various government agencies for failing to deal with the years-old store of ammonium nitrate.

Analysts say international aid will be necessary to deal with the effects of the blast. So far, a number of countries including Qatar, France, Turkey and even Lebanon's arch-enemy Israel have offered to help.

At the same time, Lebanese are calling for the world to donate to the local Red Cross, whose volunteer first responders are at the frontline of the response.


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