Beirut- Investigators probing the deadly blast that ripped across Beirut focused Wednesday on possible negligence in the storage of tons of a highly explosive fertilizer in a waterfront warehouse, while the government ordered the house arrest of several port officials.
International aid flights began to arrive as Lebanon’s leaders struggled to deal with the widespread damage and shocking aftermath of Tuesday’s blast, which the Health Ministry said killed 135 people and injured about 5,000 others.
Public anger mounted against the ruling elite that is being blamed for the chronic mismanagement and carelessness that led to the disaster.
The Port of Beirut and customs office is notorious for being one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon where various factions and politicians, including Hezbollah, hold sway.
The investigation is focusing on how 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years and why nothing was done about it.
State prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered security agencies to start an immediate investigation and collect all reports and letters related to the materials stored at the port, as well as lists of people in charge of maintenance, storage and protection of the hangar.
‘Massive cleanup operation’
Meanwhile, residents of Beirut are dealing with a scene of utter devastation after the explosion.
In the hard-hit Achrafieh district, civil defence workers and soldiers were working on locating missing people and clearing the rubble. At least one man was still pinned under stones from an old building that had collapsed. Volunteers hooked him up to an oxygen tank to help him breathe while others tried to free his leg.
The blast destroyed numerous apartment buildings, potentially leaving large numbers of people homeless at a time when many Lebanese have lost their jobs and seen their savings evaporate because of a currency crisis. The explosion also raises concerns about how Lebanon will continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.
Lebanon’s health minister said the death toll had risen to at least 135 people while more than 5,000 were wounded. Hamad Hassan also said up to 300,000 people have been left homeless.
Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center was “like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts,” said Sara, one of its nurses, who didn’t provide a surname.
Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told Al Hadath TV that collective losses after the blast might reach $10 billion to $15 billion US, saying the estimate included both direct and indirect losses related to business.
“There’s glass absolutely everywhere,” said CBC News contributor Rebecca Collard. “Basically, what we have this morning in Beirut is a massive cleanup operation.”
Rescue workers were attempting to dig through rubble to locate anyone trapped, Collard said, making it likely the current toll of dead and injured will increase.
Scores of people were missing, with relatives pleading on social media for help locating loved ones. An Instagram page called Locating Victims Beirut sprang up with photos of missing people, and radio presenters read the names of missing or wounded people throughout the night.
Among those confirmed dead was Nazar Najarian, a businessman who moved back to Lebanon from Montreal two years ago. Najarian’s wife and two kids are still living in Montreal, according to Aref Salem, a city councillor for the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent.
Hezbollah urges unity to overcome ‘national tragedy’
The Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement has called for unity to overcome what it describes as “national tragedy” following a deadly blast in Beirut.
In a statement released few hours after the massive explosion at Beirut Port on Tuesday, Hezbollah offered “deepest condolences over the national tragedy which took place in Lebanon in these hard times,” and urged national unity among all the Lebanese.
“This grievous disaster, along with its unprecedented repercussions and damage it had caused on several levels, requires a national stand by all Lebanese people and powers in a bid to overcome this ordeal,” the Lebanese resistance movement underlined.
The blast ripped through the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, leaving more than 100 people dead and nearly 4,000 others injured. Several smaller explosions were heard before the bigger one occurred.
Footage shared on social media captured the moment of the bigger explosion, with a colossal shock wave seen traveling fast across several hundreds of meters and shrouding the area in thick smoke.
The huge explosion inflicted enormous material damage to the surrounding buildings and structures.
Hezbollah also on Tuesday hailed medical and rescue teams over their efforts to help those harmed by the blast, expressing readiness to offer all kinds of assistance to Lebanese citizens in this regard.
“We put all capabilities to serve our honored people and dear citizens when necessary,” the Lebanese resistance movement said.
Moreover, Hezbollah announced that a speech scheduled to be delivered by the movement’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday was adjourned to another date that will be revealed later, citing the national mourning which Lebanon is witnessing over the massive explosions.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced three days of national mourning for the victims of the deadly blast in Lebanon, declaring a state of emergency across the country for two weeks.
Diab also vowed that those responsible for the massive blast in Beirut would be held to account, calling for international assistance to help the country, which is already beset by economic crises.
World offers support, condolences to Lebanon
Few hours after the massive blast took place in Beirut, condolences and offers of help poured in from most countries in the world following Diab’s call for international assistance.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his “deepest condolences … following the horrific explosions in Beirut” which he said had also injured some United Nations personnel.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed the country’s full readiness to render any necessary help.
In a post on his official Twitter account on Tuesday, Zarif said Iranians thoughts and prayers are with the “great and resilient people of Lebanon.”
The top Iranian diplomat also called on the Lebanese people and government to “stay strong.”
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