Death toll in Beirut blast tops 100, number of victims expected to rise as hospitals overflowed with wounded

FNA – Head of the Lebanese Red Cross George Kettaneh stated Wednesday at least 100 people were killed and several thousand more wounded in the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday afternoon, while medical assistance to injured people has been disrupted due to the large number of patients and damaged or destroyed hospitals.

Kettaneh noted the toll could rise further, and that the Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry for morgues to take victims because hospitals were overwhelmed.

Earlier, he had stated that hundreds of injured people were taken to hospital for treatment, while some still remain trapped in their homes.

According to Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan, the situation in the city has been aggravated by the coronavirus crisis.

“There are about 4,000 injured, many of them are still without treatment, as hospitals, located near or outside the capital, lack capacity,” Hassan stated, while other reports said the number has risen to 5,000.

According to the health minister, four hospitals were completely destroyed by the blast, and their patients were taken to other medical facilities, “exacerbating the issue and turning the crisis into an epidemic health disaster”.

Hassan assessed the situation as a “catastrophe in the full sense of this word”, taking into consideration the coronavirus pandemic.

“The number of victims is increasing. So far, there are around 100 casualties,” the health minister said, specifying that the count of those missing is more than “the number of bodies that have arrived at hospitals”.

“Rescue and civil defence teams are still searching for those missing at the site of the explosion that spread over 20 kilometres in Beirut and resulted in severe damage to hundreds of buildings,” Hassan added.

Hours earlier, the conutry’s Health Ministry had reported that all Beirut hospitals are overcrowded with those injured in the incident and can no more accomodate anyone.

Dr. Mirna Doumit, President of the Order of Nurses in Beirut, but, said three of the city’s hospitals had been destroyed.

“So we had to evacuate patients who were in those hospitals to others. In addition, we have two other hospitals that were partially destroyed. So it was a catastrophe and a big hit to the healthcare system, which was already bleeding,” she told Al-Jazeera from the Lebanese capital.

“We lost three nurses working in the hospitals. I don’t find words to describe what happened. It’s like we are in a horror film,” she added.

Terrifying footage showed a huge mushroom cloud of fire and smoke covering much of Beirut’s port area, blowing out windows and destroying buildings in the neighborhood, as a warehouse at the Beirut docks caught fire overnight to Wednesday. Photos on social media showed many buildings in the area damaged or destroyed, leaving residents covered in glass and blood.

Several smaller explosions were heard before the bigger one occurred and turned the city’s streets into a debris-strewn wasteland.

Many people received shrapnel wounds and glass cuts. A huge number of cars and buses were damaged by the shockwave or falling debris.

“There are lots of injured, hospitals are packed. We will use nearby hotels in the center of Beirut to accommodate patients who do not require surgery,” the health minister stated, blaming the explosion on a fireworks accident, ordering all hospitals in Beirut to prepare for the victims of the incident.

In his words, the government now focuses on rescuing people and recovering dead bodies under the rubble of collapsed buildings in the seaport zone.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud compared the blast to the 1945 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his words, residential buildings and offices were damaged in half of the city. He had called it a “national catastrophe”.

“About 300,000 people have been displaced in the Lebanese capital after the port explosion. The cost of the destruction exceeds $3 billion”, Abboud declared, as quoted by the Al-Mayadeen broadcaster.

Earlier in the day, the official estimated the amount of damage from the explosion at around $3-5 billion.

“It’s like a war zone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s Mayor, Jamal Itani, told the Reuters news agency while inspecting the damage on Wednesday that he estimated would cost billions of dollars.

The exact cause of the incident that was felt across the capital was not immediately clear, but officials announced it could be linked to “explosive materials” confiscated and stored in a warehouse “for years”.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab told the Supreme Defense Council of Lebanon that all those guilty will be found and punished. Diab also added it was inadmissible that 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the port for six years, without necessary precautions being taken.

Diab has pledged that those responsible for the massive explosion in Beirut’s port.

He announced three days of national mourning for the victims of the deadly blast in Lebanon, declaring a state of emergency across the country for two weeks.

The PM, in a short televised speech, has appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation.

Lebanese General Security Director Abbas Ibrahim also dismissed rumors of Israeli involvement, noting that a large cache of highly explosive sodium nitrate was stored at the site, after being confiscated off a ship several months ago. But he did not explain how the fire has started, stating some 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate were in Beirut’s port on the way to Africa when they exploded.

President Michel Aoun said that it is “unacceptable” that 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored in a warehouse for six years without safety measures, according to statements published on the presidency’s Twitter account.

Aoun also pledged that those responsible would face the “harshest punishments” and added a two-week state of emergency should be declared.

The Lebanon’s president announced an investigation into the powerful blast that rocked Beirut would reveal the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, and that the results would be revealed transparently.

In a televised speech at the start of a cabinet meeting, Aoun also appealed to other nations to speed up assistance to Lebanon, which was already grappling with an economic meltdown.

“We are determined to investigate and reveal what happened as soon as possible, to mete out punishment,” Aoun added.

Earlier, Badri Zaher, Director General of the Lebanese Customs House, had declared that dozens of tons of nitrate had exploded in the port of Beirut.

The Israeli Defense Force denied responsibility for the massive explosions in Beirut. Hezbollah has also denied the blasts were the result of a rocket attack.

The massive explosion in Beirut triggered a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences center GFZ. The explosion was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200km (124 miles) away across the Mediterranean.

World leaders, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have offered support to Lebanon following the heartbreaking incident.