Here’s what you need to know:
- Search is on for survivors after blast kills more than 100.
- Lebanese officials knew of the dangers posed by the storage of ammonium nitrate at the port but failed to act.
- Some 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. But amid the devastation, stories of heroism.
- The science behind the blast: Why fertilizer is so dangerous.
- Even as hospitals were destroyed and staff members killed, doctors and nurses raced to help.
- I was bloodied and dazed. Beirut strangers treated me like a friend.
- In maps: A two-mile radius around the blast was flattened.
Search is on for survivors after blast kills more than 100.
Rescue workers still struggling to treat thousands of people wounded in an enormous explosion that rocked Beirut turned their attention on Wednesday morning to the desperate search for survivors.
The blast, so powerful it could be felt more than 150 miles away in Cyprus, leveled whole sections of the city near the port of Beirut, leaving nothing but twisted metal and debris for blocks in Beirut’s downtown business district.
The waterfront neighborhood, normally full of restaurants and nightclubs, was essentially flattened. A number of crowded residential neighborhoods in the city’s eastern and predominantly Christian half were also ravaged.
Nearly all the windows along one popular commercial strip had been blown out and the street was littered with glass, rubble and cars that had slammed into each other after the blast. The buildings in the area that remained standing looked as if they had been skinned, leaving only hulking skeletons.
The death toll rose to more than 100, but with an untold number still missing, officials expected that figure to rise. More than 4,000 people were injured, overwhelming the city’s hospitals.
“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, told the Beirut-based news network Al Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”
With electricity out in most of the city, emergency workers were limited in what they could do until the sun rose, when they joined residents digging through the wreckage even as fires still smoldered around them.
“There are many people missing until now. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity,” the Lebanese health minister, Hamad Hasan, told Reuters.
“We need everything to hospitalize the victims, and there is an acute shortage of everything,” Mr. Hassan told local news stations on Wednesday morning.
Officials said it appeared that the blast had been caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used in fertilizer and bombs, which had been stored in a warehouse at the port since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.
Already struggling with an economic collapse, a political crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, as anger on the streets swelled in Lebanon, many demanded answers to critical questions: Why was such a dangerous cache of material allowed to be stored at the port? Who knew it was there? Why was nothing done to better secure the site?
“As head of the government, I will not relax until we find the responsible party for what happened, hold it accountable and apply the most serious punishments against it,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security service, told the state-run national news agency that “highly explosive materials” had been seized by the government years ago and had been stored near the blast site. Although he said that the possibility of the explosives having been set off intentionally was under inquiry, he warned against getting “ahead of the investigation” by speculating that it was a terrorist act.
The Lebanese Red Cross said that every available ambulance from North Lebanon, Bekaa and South Lebanon was being dispatched to Beirut to help patients and engage in search-and-rescue operations.
Lebanese officials knew of the dangers posed by the storage of ammonium nitrate at the port but failed to act.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that Lebanese officials are blaming for a huge explosion that devastated Beirut on Tuesday arrived in the city aboard an ailing, Russian-owned cargo ship that made an unscheduled stop in the city more than six years ago.
Lebanese customs officials wrote letters to the courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the highly combustible material, according to public records cited by a Lebanese lawmaker, Salim Aoun.
Solutions proposed by the officials included exporting the ammonium nitrate from Lebanon or donating it to the Lebanese Army. But the judiciary failed to respond to the letters, the records suggested.
The general manager of Beirut port, Hassan Koraytem, appeared to confirm that account on Wednesday in an interview with OTV, a local broadcaster. Despite numerous requests to have the material moved, “nothing happened,” Mr. Koraytem said.
“We have been waiting for this to be resolved for six years, in vain,” he said.
The Russian-owned, Moldovan-registered ship, the Rhosus, arrived in Beirut in November 2013, just under two months after it had left Georgia en route for the port of Beira in Mozambique. Lebanese port officials discovered “significant faults” on the ship and prevented it from continuing its journey, according to an account by lawyers for the ship’s crew published in 2015.
The ship’s Russian captain later identified the vessel’s owner as Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman living in Cyprus. But Mr. Grechushkin appeared to abandon it soon after it ran into trouble, prompting a lengthy legal and diplomatic dispute.
Six crew members were allowed to return home, but the captain, from Russia, and four others, from Ukraine, were forced to remain on board by the Lebanese authorities. Immigration restrictions prevented them from leaving the ship, and they struggled to obtain food and other supplies, according to their lawyers.
The plight of the stranded crew attracted attention in Ukraine, where news accounts portrayed them as hostages trapped aboard an abandoned ship.
The crew told the Lebanese authorities that they worried about the danger to their safety from the ship’s cargo: 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which can be used to manufacture explosives as well as fertilizer.
The crew were released on compassionate grounds after nearly a year, in late 2015, on orders from a Lebanese judge. That left the Lebanese authorities in charge of the ship’s deadly cargo, which by then had been moved to a storage facility at the Beirut port.
Some 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. But amid the devastation, stories of heroism.
The Lebanese Red Cross raced to set up temporary shelters with food, hygiene kits and basic needs to house up to 1,000 families who lost their homes, although that will only be enough to help a small fraction of the estimated 300,000 people who were displaced by the blast.
But even as scores of people remained missing and families engaged in desperate searches in the two-square-mile blast zone around the port, stories of heroism also began to emerge.
Cheers erupted as rescue workers pulled a young man from the rubble, his clothes caked in dirt and dust and clinging to his body as he was carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. He had been pinned under a collapsed building for more than 10 hours, bystanders said.
Many on social media applauded the quick thinking of a woman seen in a video vacuuming on a balcony when the first blast hit. Without hesitation, she threw herself forward to shield a young girl across the room, swept her into her arms and ran for safety.
The governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, told reporters that hundreds of thousands had been displaced by the explosion.
Across the battered city, residents, hotels, schools and others offered shelter to those in need, coordinating the efforts on social media.
“Please DM me if you or anyone you know needs shelter,” wrote Joelle Eid on Twitter. “My family home was not affected and is open. We can arrange for transport as well. #ourhomesareopen.”
A charity set up an Instagram account compiling pleas from family and friends of the missing that showed the extent of the devastation and how thoroughly it had pummeled the city.
The account posted photographs of at least 90 missing people with contact information for their families just hours after it was established, with tens of thousands of followers by Wednesday morning. More than 2 million pounds, or about $2.6 million, had been donated to the effort.
The diversity of the names of the missing made clear that the blast spared no sect, age or class in Beirut, a city of about two million and home to thousands of Syrian refugees.
“Dima Abdel Samid Kaiss was visiting her dad” in the hospital, one post read. “The whole hospital was evacuated, she is not found yet.”
Other posts from family, friends and colleagues included information about a firefighter who went missing after rushing to help tame the flames at the port and a photograph of a grandfather cradling his grandson.
Urban search and rescue units from across the region and further afield — including from France, Poland, Greece and the Netherlands — were sent to Beirut to assist in the hunt for the missing.
The science behind the blast: Why fertilizer is so dangerous.
When an explosive compound detonates, it releases gas that rapidly expands. This “shock wave” is essentially a wall of dense air that can cause damage, and it dissipates as it spreads farther out. A mass of exploding ammonium nitrate produces a blast that moves at many times the speed of sound, and this wave can reflect and bounce as it moves — especially in an urban area like the Beirut waterfront — destroying some buildings while leaving others relatively undamaged
The explosive power of ammonium nitrate can be difficult to quantify in absolute terms, given that it depends on the age of the compound and the conditions in which it is stored. However, it could be as high as about 40 percent of the power of TNT.
At 40 percent the power of TNT, the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate could produce 1 p.s.i. of overpressure — defined as the pressure caused by a shock wave over and above normal atmospheric pressure — as far as 6,600 feet away. The same explosion would produce 27 p.s.i. at a range of 793 feet away, which would destroy most buildings, and kill people either through direct trauma or by being struck by debris.
Accidental detonation of ammonium nitrate has caused a number of deadly industrial accidents, including the worst in United States history: In 1947, a ship carrying an estimated 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded in the harbor of Texas City, Texas, starting a chain reaction of blasts and blazes that killed 581 people.
The chemical has also been the primary ingredient in bombs used in several terrorist attacks, including the destruction of the federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which killed 168 people. That bomb contained about two tons of ammonium nitrate.
Even as hospitals were destroyed and staff members killed, doctors and nurses raced to help.
At least four large hospitals in Beirut were so severely damaged by the explosion that they were unable to admit patients, doctors said. Health care workers were injured and killed in the blast, and a warehouse storing much of the country’s vaccine supply was believed to have been razed.
An official at American University Hospital in Beirut, a big and prestigious private hospital, said they were sending noncritical patients to hospitals outside the capital.
At least four nurses died and five doctors were wounded at St. George Hospital, one of the hardest hit, according to Dr. Joseph Haddad, the director of the intensive care unit there.
One nurse scooped up three premature infants from the neonatal intensive care unit, where the ceiling had partially collapsed and glass had shattered, to carry them to safety. A photojournalist, Bilal Jawich, captured a photograph of the nurse, who has not been publicly identified.
In a post accompanying the photograph, he described how the nurse had rushed to the phone to call for help with the tiny babies clutched in her arms. “16 years of photojournalism and a lot of wars. I can say I have never seen what I saw today,” he wrote.
Dr. Haddad had just finished his rounds and was walking home when the explosion struck. He rushed to check on his family and found his apartment completely destroyed, he said.
He then returned to the hospital to get to work, he said, expecting to be busy stitching up patients injured in the blast and saving lives. But he discovered that the hospital, too, was in rubble.
“The patients were coming down the stairs, the elevators weren’t working. They were walking down from as high as nine floors up,” Dr. Haddad said. “It was the deepest hell of an apocalypse. When I went back to my home an hour later, people were crying in the streets.”
Dr. Peter Noun, the head of St. George Hospital’s pediatric hematology and oncology department, said, “Every floor of the hospital is damaged. I didn’t see this even during the war. It’s a catastrophe.”
“The damage is extremely bad,” he added. “All the rooms are damaged. All the parents and their children were in their rooms. Everything just fell down, the windows destroyed, the ceiling in pieces.”
In addition to taking out some of the capital’s most important hospitals, worries mounted over hundreds of thousands of vaccines and medications that are stored at the Ministry of Public Health-run central medical warehouse at Karantina, half a mile from the port where the explosion took place.
The vaccines and medications stored at the warehouse are used to prevent infectious diseases in children under 5 years old and to treat acute sicknesses as well as cancer and autoimmune diseases.
I was bloodied and dazed. Beirut strangers treated me like a friend.
Vivian Yee, a correspondent for The New York Times, was at home in Beirut when two explosions convulsed the city. This is her first-person account of what happened.
I was just about to look at a video a friend had sent me on Tuesday afternoon — “the port seems to be burning,” she said — when my whole building shook. Uneasily, naïvely, I ran to the window, then back to my desk to check for news.
Then came a much bigger boom, and the sound itself seemed to splinter. There was shattered glass flying everywhere. Not thinking but moving, I ducked under my desk.
When the world stopped cracking open, I couldn’t see at first because of the blood running down my face. After blinking the blood from my eyes, I tried to take in the sight of my apartment turned into a demolition site. My yellow front door had been hurled on top of my dining table. I couldn’t find my passport, or sturdy shoes.
Later, someone would tell me that Beirutis of her generation, raised during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, instinctively ran into their hallways as soon as they heard the first blast, to escape the glass they knew would break.
I was not so well trained, but the Lebanese who would help me in the hours to come had the steadiness that comes from having lived through countless previous disasters. Nearly all were strangers, yet they treated me like a friend.
When I got downstairs, someone passing on a motorbike saw my bloody face and told me to hop on.
Everyone on the street seemed to be either bleeding from open gashes or swathed in makeshift bandages — all except one woman in a chic, backless top leading a small dog on a leash. Only an hour before, we had all been walking dogs or checking email or grocery shopping. Only an hour before, there had been no blood.
In maps: A two-mile radius around the blast was flattened.
Mapping the Damage From the Beirut Explosion
Damage was seen at least two miles from the explosion, encompassing an area with more than 750,000 residents.
The disaster raises concerns about food security in a nation already struggling with economic crisis.
The destruction of the Port of Beirut in a pair of explosions has left the country in a precarious position as it was both Lebanon’s central storage location for grain and a critical link in the supply chain that the country relies on for critical goods like food and medicine.
Even before the blast, Save the Children had warned that almost one million people did not have money to buy essentials, including sufficient food, because of the worsening economic crisis. More than 500,000 children were already struggling to get enough to eat.
The coronavirus pandemic had compounded the already dire financial crisis and was causing major import disruptions.
The devastation of the port — which was essentially flattened in the powerful blast — destroyed or damaged grain silos that store 85 percent of the country’s grain.
Even the wheat that survived was made inedible by the explosion.
Lebanon’s economic minister, Raoul Nehme, told reporters on Wednesday that the country had less than a month’s reserves of wheat, well below the three-month minimum needed to ensure basic food security.
And because the country is reliant on imports for more than 80 percent of its food supply, the loss of the port will make it more challenging to bring in much needed relief.
Imports at Lebanon’s second port in Tripoli will be increased, but it will be hard to make up for the loss of the Beirut port, which handled 60 percent of the country’s overall imports, according to S&P Global.
Numerous countries said on Wednesday that they would send aid to Lebanon. Russia is sending five humanitarian planes that carry a mobile hospital, rescue teams and doctors, and France is sending 55 emergency workers aboard two planes.
Beirut’s landmark downtown is in shambles. Again.
The explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday spared no corner of Lebanon’s capital, leaving the city looking like a war zone without a war.
Landmarks that came to symbolize the hope of attaining a peaceful coexistence after the end of Lebanon’s bloody 15-year civil war, including Beirut’s bustling downtown, were left in pieces. The streets looked like they were “cobbled in glass,” one resident said of the shattered windows strewn across the city.
When the explosion rippled through the capital on Tuesday, many Lebanese felt it was the heartbreakingly natural conclusion of a government unable to manage the country’s affairs. As residents shared information about which aid organizations to donate to, a common plea emerged: Don’t give to the government.
The distrust leads back to when downtown Beirut was destroyed during the civil war. The section of the city represented the vibrant fabric of Lebanon that had turned on itself as the country succumbed to infighting.
But the revived downtown came to represent everything that was wrong with the Lebanese political system after the war. Residents with homes there, the facades crumbling from shelling and bombing, were run out by a private company set up by former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Downtown became a place that symbolized Lebanon’s inequality, with homes unattainable for the average citizen in a country where the minimum wage is $450 per month.
Here’s how to help.
The images of the explosions in Beirut have shocked the world and overwhelmed authorities, damaging infrastructure including many hospital and critical facilities.
For those looking for way to give support and help to help here’s a list of groups to support.
The Lebanese Red Cross is the main provider of ambulance services in Lebanon, and said it would dispatch every ambulance from North Lebanon, Bekaa and South Lebanon to Beirut to treat the wounded and help in search-and-rescue operations. You can make a one-time contribution here.
Impact Lebanon, a nonprofit organization, has set up a crowdfunding campaign to help organizations on the ground, and is helping to share information about those still missing after the explosion. The group had raised over $3 million as of Wednesday and donated the first $100,000 to the Lebanese Red Cross.
Over 300,000 people in Beirut were displaced from their homes by the explosion. Baytna Baytak, a charity that provided free housing to health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic, is now raising funds with Impact Lebanon to shelter those who have been displaced.
Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard, Vivian Yee, Hwaida Saad, Maria Abi-Habib, John Ismay, Russell Goldman, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Elian Peltier, Declan Walsh and Nada Rashwan.
Published at Wed, 05 Aug 2020 14:49:16 +0000