Beirut blast: Frantic look for survivors of deadly explosion

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Rescue workers in Lebanon are checking out quite 100 people that are missing after an enormous explosion devastated the port area of the capital Beirut on Tuesday.

The blast killed a minimum of 100 people and injured quite 4,000 others. The whole city was shaken by the explosion and a mushroom might be seen spreading over the port area.

President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of nitrate stored unsafely during a warehouse. Ammonium nitrate is employed as a fertiliser in agriculture and as an explosive.

He scheduled an urgent cabinet meeting for Wednesday, and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared. The country will observe a politician period of mourning for 3 days from Wednesday.

What happened?
The explosion occurred just after 18:00 (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday after a fireplace at the port.Eyewitness Hadi Nasrallah says that he saw the hearth but didn’t expect the blast. “I lost my hearing for a couple of seconds, I knew something was wrong, then suddenly the glass just shattered everywhere the car, the cars around us, the shops, the stores, the buildings. Just glass taking place from everywhere the building.” he told the BBC.

The BBC’s Lina Sinjab said she could feel the wave of the explosion from where she was, a five-minute drive from the port area . “My building was shaking, it had been close to fall, all windows were forced open,” she said.

The blast was also felt 240km (150 miles) away on the island of Cyprus, within the eastern Mediterranean, with people there saying they thought it had been an earthquake.

BBC journalist Rami Ruhayem said there was chaos within the aftermath of the blast as ambulances with their sirens wailing inched their way through heavy traffic to urge to the location . “Shards of glass blanketed the highway leading into Beirut from the north, as a tractor cleared the rubble.”

Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble and video footage showed wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings. Hospitals were said to be overwhelmed.

The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross , George Kettani, described it as a “huge catastrophe”, adding: “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

His organisation said quite 100 people had died which an enquiry and rescue operations was still under thanks to locate the quite 100 people missing.

Journalist Sunniva Rose said there was still smoke rising into the sky late into the evening. “The whole city was black. it had been very hard to steer around, people were covered in blood. I saw an 86-year-old woman being treated by a doctor who had just run out of his home with a primary aid kit.”

What triggered it?
Officials said that an investigation was under thanks to find the precise trigger which caused the nitrate – which had reportedly been stored during a warehouse after it had been unloaded from a ship impounded at the port in 2013 – to explode.

British former secret agent Philip Ingram told the BBC’s Today programme that nitrate could only be became an explosive substance under certain circumstances. Ammonium nitrate features a number of various uses, but the 2 commonest are as an agricultural fertiliser and as an explosive.

It is highly explosive when it comes into contact with fire – and when it explodes, nitrate can release toxic gases including nitrogen oxides and ammonia gas.

There are strict rules on the way to store it safely – including requiring the storage site to be thoroughly fire-proofed, and not have any drains, pipes or other channels during which nitrate could build up and make a further explosion hazard.

Mr Ingram said that safely stored it had been relatively safe but that in confined space and when contaminated with items like heating oil it could cause an explosion.

Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council said those found liable for the explosion would face the “maximum punishment” possible.

What’s the background?
The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. With Covid-19 infections on the increase , hospitals were already struggling to cope. Now, they’re faced with treating thousands of injured people.

The country is additionally browsing an depression . Lebanon imports most of its food and enormous quantities of grain stored within the port are destroyed causing fears of widespread food insecurity to return .

The future of the port itself is unsure thanks to the destruction caused and with many building and houses reduced to an uninhabitable mess of glass and debris many residents are left homeless.

President Aoun announced that the govt would release 100 billion lira (£50.5m; $66m) of emergency funds but the impact of the blast on the economy is predicted to be long-lasting.

Source: bbc news

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