Beirut blast death toll climbs to at least 137; three-day mourning declared

WION Web Team
Beirut, Lebanon Published: Aug 06, 2020, 06:47 AM(IST)

Beirut blasts Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The death toll was expected to further rise from the blast, which officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.

Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab has declared three days of mourning from Thursday as the death toll in the blasts in Beirut rose to at least 137. The explosion at Beirut port also has left tens of people missing and injured more than 5,000 others.

Tuesday's explosion obliterated part of the port and caused damage over a wide radius in the heart of the city, prompting fears the final number of those dead could yet rise significantly.

Lebanese rescue teams continued pulling out bodies and hunting for missing people late into Wednesday night from the wreckage. Officials blamed the blast on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.

Up to a quarter of a million people were left without homes fit to live in, officials said, after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.

The explosion was the most powerful ever in Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.

An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on "inaction and negligence", saying "nothing was done" by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.

Also read | Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast: Source

Officials have not confirmed the origin of an initial blaze that sparked the explosion, although a security source and local media said it was started by welding work.

Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour. Some victims were hurled out to sea by the powerful blast.

The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed. Health officials reported that hospitals were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured.
Beirut's Clemenceau Medical Center was "like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts," said Sara, one of its nurses.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told Al Hadath TV that collective losses from the blast might reach as high as $15 billion, including indirect losses related to business.

Also read | Beirut, once jewel of Mediterranean, now a city of baffling contradictions

Offers of international support poured in. Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies.

Turkey said it would send 20 doctors to help treat the injured, as well as medical and relief assistance. Iraq pledged fuel aid, while Iran offered food and a field hospital.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted: "We sympathize with the dear Lebanese citizens and stand by them in the painful tragedy of the Beirut port explosion ... Patience in the face of this incident will be a golden leaf of honour for Lebanon."

The United States, Britain and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered aid. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialised search and rescue teams.

Two French planes were expected to arrive on Thursday with specialist rescue personnel and equipment, and President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit on Thursday.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the US government had not totally ruled out the possibility that Tuesday's explosion was an attack, and said it is still gathering intelligence on the blast.

(with inputs from agencies)

Read in App