Beirut, Lebanon explosions assessed day after port incident kills dozens, injures thousands
Residents of Beirut awoke to a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after asent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 100 people and wounding thousands.
“Houses, buildings, dead bodies in the streets, injuries,” reported CBS News producer Sami Aouad. “Hospitals couldn’t accept more injuries and bodies because they were full. Beirut is a destroyed city. It is like a real war zone.”
Smoke was still rising from the port, where towering grain silos had been shattered. Major downtown streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out. The Secretary General of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said at least 100 people had been killed and more than 4,000 had been wounded, according to Lebanon’s state media, NNA.
“The disaster is unprecedented,” he told NNA.
At hospitals across the city, people had been waiting all night for news of loved ones who had gone missing or were wounded. Others posted requests for help online, at social media accounts that had been created after the blast. One Instagram account, “LocateVictimsBeirut,” was trying to help people find the missing by posting photos and contact information of who to call if someone was located. Another, “Open_Houses_Lebanon,” offered shelter to those who had lost their homes.
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.
Estimates suggest some 85% of the country’s grain was stored at the now-destroyed silos.
It was unclear what caused the blast, which appeared to have been triggered by a fire and struck with the force of an earthquake. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was on the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighboring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.
Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
Videos showed what looked like a fire erupting nearby 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 up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.
The tiny Mediterranean nation’s economic crisis is rooted in decades of systemic corruption and poor governance by the political class that has been in power since the end of the civil war. Lebanese have held mass protests calling for sweeping political change since last autumn but few of their demands have been met as the economic situation has steadily worsened.