Lebanon explosion: Massive Beirut blast kills more than 70, injures thousands
Lebanon’s health ministry said that at least 78 people had died and 4,000 suffered injuries in the explosions and fire that shook Beirut on Tuesday.
The numbers climbed steadily through the day, and with the wounded still streaming into hospitals and the search for missing people underway, they were likely to go higher still.
The secretary-general of the Kataeb political party, Nizar Najarian, was killed in the blast, and among those injured was Kamal Hayek, the chairman of the state-owned electricity company, who was in critical condition, the news agency reported.
Videos of the aftermath posted online showed wounded people bleeding amid the dust and rubble, and damage where flying debris had punched holes in walls and furniture. On social media, people reported damage to homes and cars far from the port.
The Lebanese Red Cross said that every available ambulance from North Lebanon, Bekaa and South Lebanon was being dispatched to Beirut to help patients.
Hospitals were so overwhelmed that they were turning wounded people away, including the American University Hospital. Patients were transported to hospitals outside Beirut because those in the city were at capacity.
Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan announced that his ministry would cover the costs of treating the wounded at hospitals, the National News Agency reported. It said the decision covered both hospitals that have contracts with the ministry as well as those that don’t.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that Wednesday would be a national day of mourning, the National News Agency reported. The Lebanese presidency said on Twitter that President Michel Aoun had instructed the military to aid in the response, and called an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, which declared Beirut a disaster area.
A large cache of explosive material seized by the government years ago was stored where the explosions occurred, according to top Lebanese officials — specifically ammonium nitrate, commonly used in both fertilizer and bombs.
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 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.
In a televised statement, an official of the Lebanese Higher Defense Council quoted Prime Minister Diab as saying: “I will not relax until we find the responsible party for what happened, hold it accountable and apply the most serious punishments against it because it isn’t acceptable that a shipment of ammonium nitrate — estimated to be 2,750 tons — was in a depot for the past six years without precautionary measures being taken.”
Hours earlier, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security service, had said that “highly explosive materials” were stored at the site, which Mr. Aoun then confirmed. At first, neither of them said what those materials were, but General Ibrahim warned against getting “ahead of the investigation” and speculating about a terrorist act.
American military leaders “seem to think it was an attack,” President Trump told reporters at the White House, which was at odds with what Lebanese officials said. “It was a bomb of some kind.”
Mr. Diab, the prime minister, said in a televised statement, “Facts on this dangerous depot, which has existed since 2014 or the past six years, will be announced.”
“What happened today will not come to pass without accountability,” Mr. Diab said. “Those responsible will pay a price for this catastrophe.” he said. “This is a promise to the martyrs and wounded people. This is a national commitment.”