Lebanon mourns victims of devastating blast, searches for missing

Lebanon mourns victims of devastating blast, searches for missing

Lebanon mourns victims of devastating blast, searches for missing

Lebanon mourned on Aug. 6 the victims of the most powerful blast to hit a country that has already been struck down by an economic crisis, as rescuers searched for those missing since the explosion flattened Beirut port and devastated the city.

French President Emmanuel Macron, making the first visit by a foreign leader since Aug. 4’s blast which killed at least 145 people and injured 5,000, arrived in Beirut yesterday along with specialist rescue personnel and equipment.

Dozens are still missing and up to 300,000 people were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows several kilometers inland.

A security source said the death toll had reached 145, and officials said the figure was still likely to rise.

Families gathered near the port seeking information on those missing, amid rising public anger at the authorities for allowing a huge quantity of highly explosive material to be stored for years in unsafe conditions in a port warehouse.

“They will scapegoat somebody to defer responsibility,” said Rabee Azar, a 33-year-old construction worker, speaking near the smashed remains of the port’s grain silo, surrounded by other mangled masonry and flattened buildings.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from yesterday after the explosion, the most devastating to hit the city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a financial meltdown and surge in coronavirus cases.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said Lebanon, with its banking system in crisis, a collapsing currency and one of the world’s biggest debt burdens, had “very limited” resources to deal with the disaster, which by some estimates may cost the nation $15 billion.

President Michel Aoun blamed the blast on 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, that had been stored for six years at the port after it was seized. He promised to investigate and hold those responsible to account.

The government has ordered port officials to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters.

But Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the financial crisis, blamed politicians in charge during decades of state corruption and bad governance.

“Our leaders are crooks and liars. I don’t believe any investigation they will do. They destroyed the country and they’re still lying to the people. Who are they kidding?” said Jean Abi Hanna, 80, a retired port worker whose home was damaged and daughter and granddaughter injured in the blast.

Some local media reported sightings of drones or planes flying in the area shortly before the explosion and some Beirut residents said they saw missiles fired. But officials have denied the incident was the result of any attack.

A Lebanese security source said the initial blaze that sparked the explosion was caused by welding work. 

Seismic tremors from the blast were recorded as far away as Eilat on Israel’s Red Sea coast, about 580 km south of Beirut.

Health officials reported hospitals were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told Al Hadath TV total losses from the blast could reach $15 billion, including losses to businesses amid the broader fallout.

Operations have been paralyzed at Beirut port, Lebanon’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people, forcing ships to be diverted to smaller ports.