Dubai: The Lebanese government has placed officials in charge of Beirut port under house arrest a day after blasts that killed at least 100 people and injured nearly 4,000, reported local media on Wednesday.
Lebanese rescue workers dug through the rubble looking for survivors of a powerful warehouse explosions that shook the capital Beirut, killing 100 people and injuring nearly 4,000 in a toll that officials expected to rise.
Meanwhile, fears abounded for children hurt and separated from their family members in Tuesday's powerful explosions. Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s Country Director in Lebanon, said:
Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s Country Director in Lebanon, said: "We are shocked and devastated by the explosion today. The death toll may not be known for several days but what we do know is that in a disaster like this, children may be hurt, shocked and separated from their parents. Our Child Protection teams are ready to support the government’s efforts which will almost certainly go on for several days to come. It is vital that children and their families get access to the services they urgently need, including medical care and physical and emotional protection."
Tuesday's blasts 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.
Preliminary investigations, said an official, indicate that highly explosive materials stored in ward 12 were the cause of the blasts. Later, Lebanon's prime minister said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on brotherly and friendly countries to help his country. Those responsible for Beirut 'catastrophe' must be held to account, he added. "The warehouse in which the explosion occurred is dangerous and has been in existence for 6 years," said Diab. Later, he said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port.
Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council recommended declaring Beirut a disaster-stricken city, and that military oversee security in 'disaster-stricken' Beirut.
Earlier however, a witness told Gulf News that something fell from the sky before the explosions; others said they could hear aeroplanes before the blasts. "We heard a plane, then an explosion, like the ones we used to hear in 2006 Israeli war," a Lebanese woman told Gulf News.
The blasts shattered windows of surrounding buildings sending a huge plume of smoke billowing into the sky, AFP correspondents said.
Officials did not say what caused the blaze that set off the blast. A security source and local media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a hole in the warehouse.
Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port, followed by an enormous blast, sending a white cloud and a fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (one mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.
Bleeding people were seen running and shouting for help in clouds of smoke and dust in streets littered with damaged buildings, flying debris, and wrecked cars and furniture.
"What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe," the head of Lebanon's Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. "There are victims and casualties everywhere - in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion."
Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.
Lebanese Minister of Health, Hamad Hasan announced the death toll and that more than 3,000 were wounded in Beirut explosion.
Meanwhile, Israel denied any connection to the explosions. An Israeli official told media: "Israel has nothing to do with the blast in Beirut."
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, also expressed his support to the Lebanese people in a tweet saying "Our condolences to the beloved people of Lebanon ... May God, have mercy on those who passed away today ... May God grant them patience and solace."
France: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said France will deploy a civil security detachment and several tonnes of medical equipment to Lebanon, whose capital was hit by an explosion that left over 70 people dead and thousands injured.
"Emergency doctors will also reach Beirut as soon as possible to strengthen hospitals. France is already engaged," the French President said in a tweet.
US: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also extended his deepest condolences to all those affected by the "massive explosion at the port of Beirut."
"We are closely monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this tragedy. Our team in Beirut has reported to me the extensive damage to a city and a people that I hold dear, an additional challenge in a time of already deep crisis. We understand that the Government of Lebanon continues to investigate its cause and look forward to the outcome of those efforts," he said in a statement.
UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his country is ready to provide support in any way it can."The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking. All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident. The UK is ready to provide support in any way we can, including to those British nationals affected," Johnson said.
- Sara Al Shurafa, ANI
Lebanese Interior minister, Brigadier General Mohamed Fahmy, during his visit to Beirut Port, accompanied by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, said: "We should wait for investigations to find out the cause of the explosion[s]."
Fahmy added: "The preliminary information indicates that highly explosive materials, [which] were confiscated years ago from a ship, exploded in ward No.12."
Lebanese Public Security General, Abass Ibrahim after visiting the area of the explosion said: "The explosion is definitely not a fireworks depot, but a highly explosive material that was kept there. An investigation is on." His statement came as some local media reported fireworks as being the reason for the incident.
Lebanon's state news agency, NNA, and two security sources said the blast had occurred in the port area where there are warehouses housing explosives. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast or what kind of explosives were in the warehouses. it also reported countless casualties from the explosion.
Jordanian Seismological Observatory have said that Beirut explosion is equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 on Richter scale.
"There are victims and casualties everywhere - in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion." Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.
A security source said victims were being taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were already packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east were called in to cope with the huge casualty toll.
Lebanese Prime minster declared a national day of mourning on Wednesday.
The afternoon blast shook several parts of the capital and thick smoke billowed from the city center. Residents reported windows being blown out and a false ceilings dropping.
The Governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, while speaking to media said contact with a firefighting team has been lost and their whereabouts are not known. He added that what happened today is similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Governor could not hold himself and broke in tears on live TV.
"I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street," said a Reuters witness.
An Associated Press photographer near Beirut's port witnessed people wounded on the ground and widespread destruction in central Beirut.
The explosions "caused dozens of injuries," a security source said.
The blasts were heard as far away as Nicosia on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 240 kilometres away.
English broadcaster, journalist, writer, and television personality Piers Morgan tweeted: "Family members in Cyprus telling me they heard the #Beirut explosion from there, over 100 miles away."
An AFP correspondent at the scene said every shop in the Hamra commercial district had sustained damage, with entire shopfronts destroyed, windows shattered and many cars wrecked.
Injured people were walking in the street, while outside the Clemenceau Medical Centre, dozens of wounded people, many covered in blood, were rushing to be admitted to the centre, including children.
Destroyed cars had been abandoned in the street with their airbags inflated.
Some local TV stations reported the blast was at Beirut's port inside an area where firecrackers were stored.
Hamad Hasan, Lebanon's Minister of Health, said: " A large number of wounded are now arriving in bad condition to hospitals as a result of the Beirut explosion."
The explosions also come as Lebanon awaits the verdict on Friday on the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, killed in a huge truck bomb attack.
Four alleged members of the Hezbollah group are on trial in absentia at the court in the Netherlands over the huge Beirut suicide bombing that killed billionaire Hariri and 21 other people.
A woman in the city centre told AFP: "It felt like an earthquake ... I felt it was bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005."