A few hours after the massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital on Tuesday, the authorities said at least 78 people have been killed and some 4,000 wounded at the area surrounding the port in Beirut. President Michel Aoun called for an emergency cabinet meeting of the High Defence Council, which declared Beirut a disaster-stricken city. A two-week state of emergency is expected to take place to help speed up the investigations.
Health officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through rubble. Speculations about the cause of the explosion spread at first, and the U.S. president said: “It looks like a terrible attack.” However, Lebanese officials linked the explosion to some 2,700 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate that have been seized and were and being stored in a warehouse at the port for six years.
According to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, the explosion was felt in the neighbouring island of Cyprus, around 240 kilometres away. Kilometres from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down and ceilings collapsed. The two massive explosions left the streets of Beirut littered with debris and cars upturned by the strength of the blasts. Experts expect the damage could be far worse than what it appeared to be following the explosions, and a long time would pass before the port can be operational again.
The video captured at the scene, which appeared as a giant mushroom cloud, brings to the mind the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which happened on almost the same date 75 years ago. The explosion also reminded Lebanese people of the horrible attack in which the former Prime Minister, Rafic Al Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.
The blast of the explosion came at a time when Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. This all is worsened by the COVID-19 outbreak which badly affected every country around the world. As of the day the explosion blasted, Lebanon had over 5,000 coronavirus infections, and its recovery rate from the pandemic was 36.3%, one of the lowest among the OIC member countries.
An official statement that was broadcasted on television said President Michel Aoun has decided to release 100 billion Lebanese pounds (USD 66 million) in emergency allocations from the 2020 budget. The statement also recommended in advance of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that a committee be tasked with investigating the blast and present its findings within five days to mete out the maximum punishment for those responsible.