Explosions in Beirut: tens of dead and several thousand injured

Two strong explosions rocked Tuesday, August 4, 2020 the Lebanese capital Beirut, above which rose a thick cloud of smoke. The blasts were heard in several areas of the city. They would have been caused by 2,750 tons of unsecured ammonium nitrate stored at the port, announced Prime Minister Hassan Diab. According to the latest report published at 10:50 pm Tuesday by the Minister of Health, Hamad Hassan, at least 73 people died and 3,700 others injured. “It’s a disaster in every sense of the word”, he lamented, questioned by several televisions while visiting a hospital in the capital. “The hospitals in the capital are all full of wounded,” he said, calling for the other wounded to be transported to establishments in the suburbs.

In the port, an officer asked reporters to move away from the area, fearing an explosion of the ship due to the fuel tank. Several warehouses in the port have been devastated, while the floor is littered with broken glass. A security source on the ground said there were still body parts on the ground, and operations were continuing to transport the victims.

UN ship hit

Soldiers from the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL), whose ship was moored in the port of Beirut, were seriously injured in the huge explosions that rocked the Lebanese capital, UNIFIL announced on Tuesday evening. The injured sailors, “some of them seriously”, were evacuated to “the nearest hospitals”. No indication was provided on the identity and nationality of these victims. “We are with the Lebanese people and government (…) and ready to provide assistance,” added UNIFIL, a multinational peacekeeping force present in Lebanon since 1978.

German embassy staff were injured in heavy explosions that rocked the port of Beirut on Tuesday, the German Foreign Ministry said. “There were also injuries among embassy staff. Considering the considerable damage in the urban area of ​​Beirut, we cannot exclude for the moment that other German nationals are among the dead and wounded, ”explained the ministry.

Lebanese Prime Minister called on “friendly countries” to help Lebanon

Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on “friendly countries” to help Lebanon. “I appeal urgently to all friendly countries and brotherly countries who love Lebanon to stand by its side and help us heal our deep wounds,” he said. In a televised address, he also warned that “what happened today will not pass without accountability. Those responsible for this disaster will have to pay the price ”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday evening that France stood “alongside Lebanon” and was ready to help it. “France stands and will always stand alongside Lebanon and the Lebanese. It is ready to provide assistance according to the needs expressed by the Lebanese authorities, ”he said in a tweet.

US Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo offered US aid to Lebanon, calling the two explosions a “horrible tragedy”. “We are monitoring the situation and we are ready to provide our assistance to the Lebanese people who are recovering from this horrific tragedy,” the US secretary of state tweeted.

“Explosive materials” involved

The explosions could be due to “explosive materials” confiscated and stored in a warehouse “for years,” said a senior security official on Tuesday. “It seems that there is a warehouse containing materials confiscated for years, and it seems that they were very explosive materials”, indicated the director general of the General Security Abbas Ibrahim, questioned by televisions in moving in the area. “The services concerned are carrying out the investigation, they will say what the nature of the incident is,” he added. The government has already announced a national day of mourning on Wednesday. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, meanwhile, called an “urgent meeting” of the Supreme Defense Council on Tuesday evening.

Videos posted on social networks show a first explosion followed by another which causes a gigantic cloud of smoke. “I felt like an earthquake and then after a huge explosion and the windows broke. I felt it was stronger than the explosion during the assassination of Rafic Hariri ”in 2005, caused by a van full of explosives, said a Lebanese woman in downtown Beirut. The windows of many buildings and stores were shattered. Thick clouds of orange smoke rise above the capital. Local media broadcast images of people trapped under rubble, some covered in blood.

“The buildings are shaking”

The port sector has been cordoned off by the security forces, which only allow civil defense, the ballet of ambulances with screaming sirens and fire trucks to pass. Journalists were banned from access, noted a correspondent for Agence France-Presse. On the outskirts of the port district, damage and destruction are significant. Local media broadcast images of people trapped under rubble, some covered in blood.

According to preliminary information from local media, the explosion was the result of an incident at the port of Beirut. The circumstances and details of the explosion remained unknown immediately. “The buildings are shaking,” tweeted a town resident, saying “all the windows in (his) apartment have exploded.”

The blasts heard as far as Cyprus

According to witnesses, the blasts were heard as far as the coastal town of Larnaca, Cyprus, just over 200 kilometers from the Lebanese coast. Many injured residents walk through the streets to hospitals. In the district of Achrafieh, the wounded rush to the Hôtel-Dieu. In front of the Clemenceau medical center, dozens of wounded including children, sometimes covered in blood, were waiting to be admitted. Almost every store window in the Hamra, Badaro and Hazmieh neighborhoods was shattered, as were the windows in cars. Cars have been left on the streets with their airbags inflated.

On February 14, 2005, a spectacular attack by a van loaded with explosives targeted Rafik Hariri’s convoy, killing him and 21 others and injuring more than 200. The explosion had caused flames several meters high, blowing the windows of buildings within a radius of half a kilometer. On Friday, the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is due to deliver its verdict in the trial of four men, all suspected members of the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah, accused of participating in the 2005 assassination of Rafic Hariri.

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