The floor of Beirut shook with the huge explosion that shook the port of the Lebanese capital mid-afternoon on Tuesday. At least 100 people died, more than 4,000 were injured and hospitals in a city collapsed in shock. The governor initially reported that a pyrotechnic warehouse suffered a fire and then exploded, but with the passing of the hours it became clear that these were not just fireworks.
The Interior Ministry elaborated on what happened, noting that “highly flammable material, including sodium nitrate” was kept in the warehouse and was confiscated “years ago” from a ship and was being held. The brutal explosion caused a huge smoke fungus and an earthquake-like tremor that caused serious damage in all areas near the port, a true ‘ground zero’ that spread to the Ashrafiye, Gemayze and Mar Mekhayel neighborhoods. The scenes were reminiscent of those from the years when violence was queen in Beirut.
Destruction and ambulances flying with sirens at full volume to attend to the wounded. The hospitals asked the Lebanese to come to donate blood and the rescue services multiplied by the destroyed blocks of houses to try to rescue the neighbors. As night fell, overcrowding in medical centers forced ambulances to take victims to hospitals outside of Beirut. Given the gravity, the presidency deployed the Army to “deal with the consequences of the great explosion” and “carry out patrols in the disaster areas to maintain security.” The head of state, Michel Aoun, also appealed to the unaffected population to open the doors and welcome those who lost their homes and asked the Ministry of Health to offer free treatment to the wounded.
News from neighboring Israel opened with the news. Defense Minister Gaby Ashkenazi told national television that they had nothing to do with it and pointed out that “it is probably an accident.” Also from the Hezbollah Shiite militia party they denied any involvement. The strong tension between the two enemies made the alarms on the origin of the explosion go off at first. Last week there was an incident on the Blue Line that divides Lebanon from Israel and since then troops have been on high alert. Tel Aviv accused enemy militiamen of penetrating 20 meters into its territory to attack positions, Hezbollah denied it.
Media such as the BBC also recalled that the event occurred at a delicate moment for the country, just before hearing the verdict of the trial on the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. The UN court is expected to issue on Friday his verdict on the four suspects in the car bomb attack.
Lebanon has suffered strong social protests for months and the economic situation is very delicate, with the national currency free falling against the dollar. The loss of the port will be one more problem for authorities unable to cope with the crisis as it is the main gateway to the country.
The peaceful and independent mobilizations of parties and sects began on October 17 after the government announced its intention to apply a rate to calls for Internet messaging services such as WhatsApp, a measure that it had to withdraw due to general anger. This was the spark that two weeks later brought down the Executive of Saad Hariri. Since then, Lebanon has been living in permanent political instability.