Smoke still rose from the harbor, where huge grain silos had been smashed. The main streets of the city center were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and the facades of the buildings were destroyed. Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh said at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 were injured, according to Lebanese state media, NNA.“The disaster is unprecedented,” Kettaneh told ANI.
In the city’s hospitals, people had waited all night for news of their missing or injured relatives. Others have posted requests for help online, on social media accounts created after the explosion. An Instagram account, “LocateVictimsBeirut”, tried to help people locate the missing by posting photos and contact details. Another, “Open_Houses_Lebanon”, offered shelter to those who had lost their homes.
The explosion destroyed scores of apartment buildings, potentially leaving large numbers of people homeless at a time when many Lebanese lost their jobs and saw their savings evaporate due to a currency crisis. The explosion also raises concerns about how Lebanon will continue to import almost all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.
Estimates suggest that about 85% of the country’s grain was stored in the now destroyed elevators.
International aid in the form of emergency personnel and medical personnel is being sent to Lebanon from countries around the world. France said it was sending a mobile medical unit to treat some 500 victims. Jordan has said it is sending a military field hospital and Egypt has opened a field hospital in Beirut to receive the wounded.
Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said Lebanon had accepted an offer to send a team of 37 rescuers with sniffer dogs. Denmark has declared itself ready to provide humanitarian aid and Greece has declared itself ready to help the Lebanese authorities “with all the means at its disposal”.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Tuesday’s explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – used as a fertilizer in agriculture and as an explosive – which was stored unsafe in a warehouse. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was at the forefront of the 1975-1990 civil war and which suffered from conflict with neighboring Israel and periodic bombardments and terrorist attacks.
Witnesses have reported seeing an orange cloud like the one that appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
Videos showed what looked like a nearby fire just before, and local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The fire appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering the explosion, sending out a mushroom and generating a shock wave.
Aoun said a two-week state of emergency should be declared in Lebanon and scheduled an emergency cabinet meeting. The country will officially observe three days of mourning from Wednesday.
Lebanon was already in the midst of an economic crisis rooted in decades of systemic corruption and poor governance of the political class that has been in power since the end of the civil war. The tiny Mediterranean nation has recently seen mass protests calling for sweeping political change, but few of those demands have been met as the economic situation has steadily worsened.