Rescue workers in Lebanon continue their search for survivors after a horrific warehouse explosion in the capital Beirut.
The tragedy took at least 100 lives, and injured over 4000 people, with hundreds of people still missing.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by improper storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, highly explosive substance used as a fertilizer in agriculture.
The President scheduled an urgent meeting and declared a two-week state of emergency. The country will observe an official period of mourning for three days starting on Wednesday.
Hours after the blast, which went off shortly after 6 pm (1500 GMT), a fire blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.
Officials said that an investigation was under way to find the exact trigger which caused the ammonium nitrate, which had reportedly been stored in a warehouse after it was unloaded from a ship impounded at the port in 2013,to explode.
There are strict rules on how to store ammonium nitrate safely, including requirement for the storage site to be extensively fire-proofed, without any drains, pipes or other channels in which ammonium nitrate could build up and create an explosion hazard.
Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council said those found responsible for the explosion would face the “maximum punishment” possible.
The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. With Covid-19 infections surging, hospitals are already struggling to cope. Now, they are challenged with treating thousands of explosion victims, being full of Coronavirus patients.
The country has been going through an economic crisis. Lebanon imports most of its food and large quantities of grain stored in the port have been destroyed causing fears of widespread food shortage to come.
The future of the port itself is in doubt due to the destruction caused and with many building and homes reduced to an uninhabitable mess of glass and debris many residents have been left homeless.
Majority of citizens blame the ruling elite who grabbed and clutched on power for years, amassing and growing their personal wealth while neglecting the need of reforms to solve the country’s problems.
People in Lebanon have to deal with daily electricity cuts, a lack of food and safe drinking water, with thousands having no access to the public healthcare.