A significant explosion has killed more than 100 people and left more than 4,000 injured in Beirut on Tuesday, 4 August. The blast originated in the city’s port area and appears to have occurred following an industrial fire. At this time, the blast seems to be accidental, possibly the result of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate. However, details are continuing to emerge.
Investigations are underway with the cause of the fire remaining unclear at this time. However, it has been stressed that officials do not believe there will be any further explosions nor are they currently treating the blast as an attack.
Images released from the area immediately surrounding the epicentre of the blast show buildings almost completely destroyed. Indeed, residents are reporting blown-in windows over 15 kilometres away from the location of the explosion. Access to the port area of the city remains difficult due to debris blocking access to roads, collapsed buildings and ongoing relief work.
The current death toll reflects the sheer size of the blast, akin to a heavy ordinance. Video footage capture showed the shockwave hitting onlookers kilometres away, seconds after the explosion had actually occurred. More bodies are expected to be found in the coming hours and days as rescue work continues.
The high injury rate, however, was in part augmented by the unique circumstance of the large fire that preceded the blast. Many were watching the large fire from their windows, filming and taking photographs of the smoke plume when the blast occurred, resulting an increased number of injuries as the glass shattered in the shockwave. The blast also occurred a short walk from Beirut’s shopping and nightlife districts, which would have been busy at 18:00, when the blast occurred.
The Lebanese Prime Minister has called the unsafe storage of the material “unacceptable” and has called for an inquiry into the cause of the explosion.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
The explosion registered the equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake and its shockwave was reportedly felt in Cyprus. Large parts of the area surrounding the Beirut Port have sustained significant damage, with some buildings being almost completely destroyed. Further afield, in other parts of the city, the blast damage have rendered several homes unliveable, with their windows and doors shattered and blown down.
The full extent of the damage remains unclear at this time, many buildings overlooking the port appear structurally compromised, including the president’s official residences, headquarters of former PM Saad Hariri and the CNN’s bureau in the city’s downtown.
The high casualty rate is also unsurprising, largely due to people gathering outside to film and upload videos of the fire on social media. The vast majority of hospital admissions were for glass related injuries, which quickly overwhelmed Beirut’s hospitals and emergency services.
The incident has also the potential to overwhelm the country’s government. Lebanon is already suffering from a severe economic crisis; the country’s inflation reached a high of 56 percent in May. Beirut has frequently seen protests over the country’s economic situation, the deteriorating living standards, as well as recurring power cuts. The cost of the damage caused by the blast only adds to the country’s economic distress.
The blast has also resulted in significant damage to the port’s granaries, which held about 85 percent of the country’s cereals. Lebanon was already suffering from a bread shortage as a result of the economic situation.
Finally, on Friday, 7 August, a UN-backed court that is trying four Hezbollah suspects over the killing of the country’s former leader Rafik al-Hariri is set to deliver its verdict. The court’s decision has the potential to further destabilise the already precarious situation.
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