Beirut is like a war zone. Explosion leaves 300,000 homeless , updates

A damaged facade following Tuesday’s explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. ANWAR AMRO/AFP A damaged facade is seen following yesterday’s blast at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020. – Rescuers worked through the night after two enormous explosions ripped through Beirut’s port, killing at least 100 people and injuring thousands, as they wrecked buildings across the Lebanese capital. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Beirut’s governor Marwan Abboud says some 300,000 people have lost their homes with damages ranging from $3-5bn.

A damaged facade following Tuesday’s explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. ANWAR AMRO/AFP A damaged facade is seen following yesterday’s blast at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on August 5, 2020. – Rescuers worked through the night after two enormous explosions ripped through Beirut’s port, killing at least 100 people and injuring thousands, as they wrecked buildings across the Lebanese capital. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

by Ted Regencia & Linah Alsaafin

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared following a massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 100 people and injured 4,000 others.

The explosion on Tuesday sent shockwaves across the city, causing widespread damage as far as the outskirts of the capital.

Officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through the rubble to search for survivors.

Beirut’s city governor Marwan Abboud said up to 300,000 people have lost their homes and authorities are working on providing them with food, water and shelter.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. Officials linked the blast to some 2,750 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate that were being stored in a warehouse at the port for six years.

Aoun assembled the country’s High Defence Council following the explosion.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

Here are the latest updates:

Wednesday, August 5

12:30 GMT – What we know about deadly Beirut explosion

An initial large explosion in the port area of Beirut took place around 6:00pm local time (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday, resulting in a fire, several small blasts and then a colossal explosion that flattened the harbour front and surrounding buildings.

Seismologists measured the event, which blew out windows at the city’s international airport nine kilometres (more than five miles) away, as the equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

12:15 GMT – ‘Stay strong, Lebanon’: Global support over deadly Beirut blast

Emergency medical aid and pop-up field hospitals have been dispatched to Lebanon as the world offers its support and pays tribute to the victims of the huge explosion that devastated Beirut.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on “friendly countries” to support the nation already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Gulf states were among the first to respond, with Qatar announcing it would send field hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon’s strained medical system.

12:00 GMT – Beirut port head said explosive material was warehoused based on court order

Beirut port’s general manager said the facility had warehoused highly-explosive material, blamed for the powerful blast that rocked Beirut, six years ago based on a court order, local broadcaster OTV reported.

The broadcaster quoted Hassan Koraytem as telling it that the customs department and state security had asked authorities for the material to be exported or removed, but that “nothing happened”.

11:45 GMT – Australia to donate $1.4mn to Lebanon

Australia says it will donate 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4mn) in humanitarian support to Lebanon to help Beirut recover from Tuesday’s massive explosion.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement the money will go to the World Food Programme and the Red Cross to help ensure food, medical care and essential items are provided to those affected.

She says Australia and Lebanon have a strong relationship built on extensive community ties, and more than 230,000 Australians have Lebanese heritage.

An Australian was killed and the Australian Embassy in Lebanon was damaged in the explosion.

11:30 GMT – After blast, Lebanon has less than a month’s grain reserves

Lebanon’s main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in a blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but still with enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said.

Raoul Nehme told Reuters a day after Tuesday’s devastating explosion that Lebanon needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.

“There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term.”

He said grain reserves in Lebanon’s remaining silos stood at “a bit less than a month” but said the destroyed silos had only held 15,000 tonnes of the grain at the time, much less than capacity which one official put at 120,000 tonnes.

11:15 GMT – Lebanese president promises transparent inquiry into Beirut blast

Lebanon’s president said an investigation into a powerful blast that rocked Beirut would reveal the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, and that the results would be revealed transparently.

In a televised speech at the start of a cabinet meeting, Michel Aoun also appealed to other nations to speed up assistance to Lebanon, which was already grappling with an economic meltdown.

“We are determined to investigate and reveal what happened as soon as possible, to mete out punishment,” Aoun said.

11:00 GMT – Lebanon blast ‘a real catastrophe’, analyst says

An analyst said Beirut’s massive explosion is like nothing he has seen in his life.

“This is a real catastrophe. What we’ve seen is cataclysmic,” Sami Nader, Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs said.

“The magnitude, the impact of the explosion is beyond belief. I went through the civil war in Lebanon, I was witness to the [2005 former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri bombing, to other bombings that targeted politicians, but nothing of this scale I have seen in my life.”

“The port is the major route of trade for Lebanon, the point where we get our wheat, our gas oil, our medicine – this infrastructure is totally destroyed. At the moment we are in deep need of one single dollar to come into Lebanon.”

10:40 GMT – Pope Francis offers prayers for Beirut victims

Pope Francis has offered prayers for the victims, their families, and for Lebanon.

The pontiff appealed that “through the dedication of all the social, political and religious elements,” Lebanon “might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

10:15 GMT – In Pictures: Beirut ‘like a war zone’ after deadly blast

Tuesday’s blast at port warehouses storing highly explosive material was the most powerful in years in Beirut, already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

“It’s like a war zone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told the Reuters news agency while inspecting the damage on Wednesday that he estimated would cost billions of dollars.

10:00 GMT – France sends rescuers, equipment to Lebanon

France will send two military planes to Lebanon with search and rescue experts, 15 tonnes of sanitary equipment and a mobile clinic equipped to treat 500 people injured in Tuesday’s monster blast at Beirut port, the presidency said.

The planes will leave from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris around midday (1000 GMT) to arrive in Beirut late afternoon with 55 civil security personnel on board, it said.

A dozen emergency personnel will also be sent to Beirut shortly “to reinforce hospitals in the Lebanese capital,” said the presidency.

09:45 GMT – Beirut governor: more than 200,000 people lost their homes after blast

Marwan Abboud , the governor of Beirut, said ore than 200,000 people have become homeless after a massive blast at Beirut port destroyed many buildings.      

Abboud told MTV news that between 200,000 and 250,000 people had lost their homes and authorities are working on providing them with food, water and shelter.

“We lost 10 members of the Beirut Fire Brigade and damages range between 3 [billion] and 5 billion dollars and maybe more,” he said.

The governor had revealed that a security report from 2014 warned of the possibility of an explosion in Lebanon’s capital as highly explosive materials had not been stored in a way to ensure public safety.

09:30 GMT – Turkish aid group helps Beirut victims, Ankara offers field hospital

Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) is among those searching for survivors in Beirut, and Ankara has offered to build a field hospital and help as needed.

“We’ve relayed our offer to help…[and] we are expecting a response from the Lebanese side,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.

Members of the IHH group were digging through debris to look for people and recover bodies, and the group mobilised a kitchen at a Palestinian refugee camp to deliver food to those in need, said Mustafa Ozbek, an Istanbul-based official from the group.

“We are providing assistance with one ambulance to transfer patients. We may provide help according to the needs of the hospital,” he said.

09:05 GMT – Pakistan voices solidarity with Lebanon after explosion

Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday expressed sorrow over loss of over 100 lives in a massive explosion that rocked Beirut.

“Deeply pained to hear of the massive explosions in Beirut with precious lives lost & thousand injured,” Khan said in a tweet. “We stand in solidarity with our Lebanese brethren in their difficult hour, sharing their sorrow & grief.”

08:45 GMT – Lebanese PM appeals for help after Beirut blast

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in a short televised speech, has appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation.

“We are witnessing a real catastrophe,” he said, before reiterating his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price.

Diab also said it was “unacceptable” that a shipment of approximately 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – believed by authorities to be the trigger of the explosion – was stored in a warehouse in Beirut’s port for six years without safety measures.

08:15 GMT – What is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said caused the devastating Beirut blast, is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.      

When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by armed groups such as the Taliban and other terrorist organizations for improvised explosives.

07:45 GMT – Beirut blast: Tracing the explosives that tore apart the capital

It was only after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut that most people in Lebanon learned about the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar at the city’s port.

However, analysis of public records and documents published online show senior Lebanese officials knew for more than six years that the ammonium nitrate was stored in Hangar 12 of Beirut’s port.

And they were well aware of the dangers it posed.

07:05 GMT – Iran offers to treat people injured in Beirut blast

Iran’s president has offered to send medical aid to Lebanon and treat people injured in the massive blast that killed at least 100 people in Beirut.

“Iran announces its readiness to send medical aid to Lebanon and also offers treatment of the injured and other necessary medical assistance,” Hassan Rouhani said, according to state TV.

“We hope that the circumstances of this incident will be determined as soon as possible and that peace will return to Beirut.”

06:45 GMT – UK says too early to speculate on cause of massive blast in Beirut

The United Kingdom has said it was too early to speculate on the cause of a massive blast that ripped through Beirut.

When asked about speculation about the causes of the blast, British junior education minister Nick Gibb said: “The Lebanese authorities are of course investigating the cause of that tragedy and before we have the results of that inquiry it is premature to speculate.”

Gibb also told Sky that Britain was discussing what technical and financial assistance could be offered to Lebanon.

05:55 GMT – Lebanese Red Cross death toll rises to more than 100

George Kettaneh, the head of the Lebanese Red Cross, has said at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded in the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday.

Kettaneh added the toll could rise further, and that the Red Cross was coordinating with the health ministry for morgues to take victims because hospitals were overwhelmed.

Hello, this is Linah Alsaafin in Doha taking over from my colleague Ted Regencia.

05:40 GMT – Australia mourns Lebanon disaster, one national killed

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Wednesday the death of one Australian after a massive blast ripped through the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

“Our hearts go out to all of those in Lebanon and in Beirut in particular at the moment,” he said, adding that the Australian embassy had been significantly impacted.

Officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through the rubble to search for survivors.

05:20 GMT – Cyprus says ready to send medical teams to Lebanon

Cyprus says it stands ready to offer medical aid to neighbouring Lebanon after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut port, killing at least 78 people and injuring thousands, Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told state broadcaster CyBCthe Cypriot embassy in Beirut, which was closed at the time of the blast, was badly damaged.

Tuesday’s explosion was heard throughout Cyprus, which lies more than 200km (124 miles) away.

04:50 GMT – India’s Modi ‘saddened’ by Beirut explosion

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “shocked and saddened” after learning of the large and deadly explosion that hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut, his office said on Wednesday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families and the injured,” the prime minister’s office added.

It was unclear if there were Indian nationals affected by the blast that killed at least 78 people and injured about 4,000 others.

04:12 GMT – At least three Beirut hospitals destroyed, two damaged

Dr Mirna Doumit, president of the Order of Nurses in Beirut, said three of the city’s hospitals had been destroyed.

“So we had to evacuate patients who were in those hospitals to others. In addition, we have two other hospitals that were partially destroyed. So it was a catastrophe and a big hit to the healthcare system, which was already bleeding,” she told Al Jazeera from the Lebanese capital.

“We lost three nurses working in the hospitals. I don’t find words to describe what happened. It’s like we are in a horror film.”

04:01 GMT – Analyst: Lebanon needs international help to deal with disaster

Nasser Yassin, professor at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera he doubts the Lebanese government will be able to deal with this disaster on its own and called on the international community to provide food support, noting major grain silos had been destroyed in the blast.

“We’ve seen the Lebanese government not taking the right decisions when it comes to the economy, or finances or social issues. And I can imagine that this disaster, this catastrophe, will be dealt by the way Lebanese people do – relying on themselves and the support of their communities,” he said.

“For the coming days and months, we will be dealing with the immediate aftermath, and after that, we really need to look into new ways and new people to govern this country,” he said, adding: “We need more responsible leaders and we need the engagement of the international community to deal with this disaster.”

03:00 GMT – Malaysia offers to help ‘in any way we can’

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein expressed his country’s grief over the Beirut blast, and offered to help in “any way we can”.

“Malaysia stands together in grief as our thoughts and prayers accompany the strong people of Lebanon,” he said in a Twitter post. “We stand ready to support any way we can.”

02:25 GMT – At least two Filipinos among the dead

At least two Filipino nationals were among the dead in the massive explosion in Beirut, according to the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon.

The embassy statement also said six other Filipinos were injured in the blast.

More than 27,000 Filipinos are working in Lebanon, according to the latest figures of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

02:12 GMT – Customs office blames Beirut port chief for storage of explosives

Badri Daher, the director of Lebanon’s customs office, said his agency was not responsible for the ammonium nitrate stores that triggered a massive explosion that left dozens dead.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Daher pointed the finger instead at Hassan Koraytem, head of the port.

Koraytem could not be reached for comment. The Port Directorate is under the authority of the Public Works and Transport Ministry.

01:40 GMT – Beirut explosion triggers 3.5 earthquake

The massive explosion in Beirut triggered a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ.

The explosion, which killed at least 78 people and injured about 4,000 others, was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200km (124 miles) away across the Mediterranean.

00:01 GMT – Lebanon defence council recommends army oversee Beirut’s security

Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council recommended declaring a two-week state of emergency in the capital and handing over security responsibility to military authorities.

A council statement, read live on television, said President Michel Aoun has decided to release 100 billion Lebanese pounds ($66m) in emergency allocations from the 2020 budget.

It also recommended, in advance of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, that a committee be tasked with investigating the explosion and present its findings within five days to mete out the maximum punishment to those responsible.