Latest updates on the horrible incident at Beirut Port

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On Tuesday, 4th August, there was a large blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Videos show smoke billowing from a fire, then a mushroom cloud following the blast at the city’s port.

Officials are blaming highly explosive materials stored in a warehouse for six years. Here are some main things you need to know about the incident.

What you need to know

  • At least 100 people were killed and 4,000 wounded in a massive explosion that shook Beirut on Tuesday, state-run media reported, citing the Red Cross.
  • Hundreds have been reported missing, raising fears that the death toll will rise, Lebanon’s Health minister said Wednesday. 
  • It’s still unclear what exactly caused the explosion. Lebanon’s prime minister said an investigation would focus on an estimated 2,750 metric tons of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse.

 

Satellite Images Before and After the Incident at Beirut

Satellite images August 5. Planet Labs, Inc., After explosion (Beirut)

August 5. Planet Labs, Inc., After explosion (Beirut)

This satellite image from Planet Labs, Inc, showed the destruction left in the wake of yesterday’s deadly explosion in Beirut. For comparison, here’s what the port area looked like before the blast:

Satellite images May 31. Planet Labs, Inc., Before explosion (Beirut)

Satellite images May 31. Planet Labs, Inc., Before explosion (Beirut)

Here is a list of latest updates on this horrible incident

Wednesday, August 5

14:55 GMT – Lebanon declares emergency in Beirut, approves urgent funding

Lebanon’s cabinet declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut and handed control of security in the capital to the military.

The cabinet approved an exceptional allocation of 100bn Lebanese pounds to deal with the crisis. The sum is notionally worth $66m based on the official exchange rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar, but is effectively worth some $13m based on the latest rate on the parallel market, which stood at around 7,500 in the days before the explosion.

14:33 GMT – Information minister says army to oversee house arrests of port officials

Lebanon’s Information Minister Manal Abdelsamad said that the military would oversee the house arrest of those responsible for storage and guarding at the Beirut port since June 2014.

Abdelsamad told reporters that these people would be put under house arrest “as soon as possible” after their identities were determined by an investigative committee that was formed following the blast.

The committee is headed by the justice minister and includes the prime minister and the heads of major security agencies.

The house arrests would be done “within the next five days”, which is when the committee is expected to reveal its findings and hand them over to the judiciary.

13:45 GMT – Lebanon’s cabinet to place port officials under house arrest: government source

The Lebanese cabinet has decided to place port officials under house arrest until investigations determine who is responsible for the blast, a governmental source told Al Jazeera following an emergency session.

An official announcement is expected to be made shortly.

It was not clear how many officials would be included or their seniority level. According to Reuters news agency, the army will oversee the house arrest of the officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014.

13:07 GMT – France’s president says he is traveling to Lebanon with rescue workers

French President Emmanuel Macron announced he would fly to Beirut, and two planeloads of French rescue workers and aid were expected to touch down on Wednesday afternoon.

Macron’s office told The Associated Press that the French leader will meet with Lebanese political leaders but provided no further details. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties. 

Meanwhile, the EU commission said the plan is to urgently dispatch over 100 firefighters with vehicles, sniffer dogs and equipment designed to find people trapped in urban areas.

The Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands are taking part in the effort and other countries are expected to join.

Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Linah Alsaafin.

12:30 GMT – What we know about deadly Beirut explosion, in 500 words

An initial large explosion in the port area of Beirut took place around 6:00 pm local time (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday, resulting in a fire, several small blasts and then a colossal explosion that flattened the harbor front and surrounding buildings.

Seismologists measured the event, which blew out windows at the city’s international airport nine kilometers (more than five miles) away, as the equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

Read more here.

12:15 GMT – ‘Stay strong, Lebanon’: Global support over deadly Beirut blast

Emergency medical aid and pop-up field hospitals have been dispatched to Lebanon as the world offers its support and pays tribute to the victims of the huge explosion that devastated Beirut.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on “friendly countries” to support the nation already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Gulf states were among the first to respond, with Qatar announcing it would send field hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon’s strained medical system.

Read more here.

12:00 GMT – Beirut port head said explosive material was warehoused based on court order

Beirut port’s general manager said the facility had warehoused highly-explosive material, blamed for the powerful blast that rocked Beirut, six years ago based on a court order, local broadcaster OTV reported.

The broadcaster quoted Hassan Koraytem as telling it that the customs department and state security had asked authorities for the material to be exported or removed, but that “nothing happened”.

11:45 GMT – Australia to donate $1.4mn to Lebanon

Australia says it will donate 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4mn) in humanitarian support to Lebanon to help Beirut recover from Tuesday’s massive explosion.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement the money will go to the World Food Programme and the Red Cross to help ensure food, medical care and essential items are provided to those affected.

She says Australia and Lebanon have a strong relationship built on extensive community ties, and more than 230,000 Australians have Lebanese heritage.

An Australian was killed and the Australian Embassy in Lebanon was damaged in the explosion.

11:30 GMT – After the blast, Lebanon has less than a month’s grain reserves

Lebanon’s main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in a blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but still with enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said.

Raoul Nehme told Reuters a day after Tuesday’s devastating explosion that Lebanon needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.

“There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term.”

He said grain reserves in Lebanon’s remaining silos stood at “a bit less than a month” but said the destroyed silos had only held 15,000 tonnes of the grain at the time, much less than capacity which one official put at 120,000 tonnes.

11:15 GMT – Lebanese president promises transparent inquiry into Beirut blast

Lebanon’s president said an investigation into a powerful blast that rocked Beirut would reveal the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, and that the results would be revealed transparently.

In a televised speech at the start of a cabinet meeting, Michel Aoun also appealed to other nations to speed up assistance to Lebanon, which was already grappling with an economic meltdown.

“We are determined to investigate and reveal what happened as soon as possible, to mete out punishment,” Aoun said.

11:00 GMT – Lebanon blast ‘a real catastrophe’, analyst says

An analyst said Beirut’s massive explosion is like nothing he has seen in his life.

“This is a real catastrophe. What we’ve seen is cataclysmic,” Sami Nader, Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs said.

“The magnitude, the impact of the explosion is beyond belief. I went through the civil war in Lebanon, I was witness to the [2005 former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri bombing, to other bombings that targeted politicians, but nothing of this scale I have seen in my life.”

“The port is the major route of trade for Lebanon, the point where we get our wheat, our gas oil, our medicine – this infrastructure is totally destroyed. At the moment we are in deep need of one single dollar to come into Lebanon.”

10:40 GMT – Pope Francis offers prayers for Beirut victims

Pope Francis has offered prayers for the victims, their families, and for Lebanon.

The pontiff appealed that “through the dedication of all the social, political and religious elements,” Lebanon “might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

10:15 GMT – In Pictures: Beirut ‘like a war zone’ after deadly blast

Tuesday’s blast at port warehouses storing highly explosive material was the most powerful in years in Beirut, already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

“It’s like a war zone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told the Reuters news agency while inspecting the damage on Wednesday that he estimated would cost billions of dollars.


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