Beirut explosion: news summary for 7th August

.

Beirut explosion news - Saturday 8 August

Cleaning up

Clean-up at the docks

A Lebanese army member next to an excavator cleaning debris at the site of Tuesday's blast, at Beirut's port area.

Hezbollah leader says group had no weapons at warehouse

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon, says the armed group had no weapons stored at the docks in Beirut

"We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate," Nasrallah said in a speech. "Our people are among those injured and killed in the blast."

Nasrallah said the coming investigation will "reveal the truth", and called for accountability. 

Ammonium nitrate was intended for use as explosive in mining operations in Mozambique

Fábrica de Explosivos Moçambique (FEM), a Mozambican explosives company, say they originally ordered the ammonium nitrate that eventually exploded in the port in Beirut. 

A spokesperson for the company, who spoke to CNN, said they had ordered the ammonium nitrate through a trading company, that eventually informed them it would not be arriving. 

"We were just informed by that trading company: there's a problem with the vessel, your order is not going to be delivered," the spokesperson said. "So, we never paid for it, we never received it."

The spokesperson said the quantity involved was small compared to other commercial shipments of ammonium nitrate. "It's less than what we use in a month."

The story of the firefighters

"Had we known that there was this amount of explosive material in the port, we would have acted completely differently. We would have called for an evacuation of the area and definitely we wouldn't have sent these young men and women in," the commander of Beirut's firefighters, Brigadier General Najib Khankarli said.

Painful reading.

Ammonium nitrate 

There are lots of reports of people becoming aware of and worried about ammonium nitrate shipments and stockpiles around the world. The reality is that ammonium nitrate is incredibly widely used as a fertiliser and there are million of tonnes of it being moved and stored globally at any one time. Clearly, it can be extremely dangerous, but in general, provided it is handled properly it should not be risky. But as history and recent events show, when it's not handled properly the effects can be utterly devastating.

Orient Queen

Orient Queen overturned

The upper photo shows the Orient Queen in Beirut harbour on 31 July, the lower photo shows how the blast flipped her onto her side. She eventually sank.

The 121 metre cruise ship, built in Valencia, Spain, weighed nearly 7,500 tonnes. Two crew members were killed in the blast and several people were injured. 

"The ship is totally destroyed – the cabins, the saloon, everything," said a crew member after the explosion.  

Victims

The victims

Pictures of Beirut port blast victims on the base of the Martyr's statue in Beirut Martyr's Square. The death toll has now risen to 154.

Warnings over ammonium nitrate at the port 

CNN have a deep dive into newly released documents that indicate a number of government agencies were aware both of the ammonium nitrate stored at the warehouse on the docks in Beirut and the terrible risk it posed for the city. 

The lawyers who represented the crew of the MV Rhosus, the ship that put into port with the ammonium nitrate on board, only to be abandoned by its owners, say they sent letters in July 2014 to officials at both the port and the Ministry of Transportation warning of the dangers of the cargo. They also say they received a letter from the General Director of Land and Sea Transportation which said he had sent letters to the Justice Ministry to take action to avoid the Rhosus sinking and to avoid the dangers posed by the ammonium nitrate. 

The ammonium nitrate ended up being taken off the ship and stored, unsafely, in a warehouse, while the Rhosus itself eventually sank. 

The customs authorities meanwhile told the judge handling the case that the cargo posed a danger, however he responded that he was not sure the ship and its cargo were within the courts jurisdiction. 

It appears the ammonium nitrate was left in a legal limbo, with many people aware of the risk it posed, but nobody being able or willing to do anything to solve the problem. 

In general with goods impounded from abandoned ships, the standard course of action would be for the goods to be auctioned - raising funds for the port authorities to cover their costs of dealing with the abandoned vessel. Why an auction never took place is not clear, however investigative journalists in Lebanon have suggested that customs agents may have been attempting a private sale of the ammonium nitrate, which the judge dealing with the case refused to sanction, because it was not permissible under the law. 

The Lebanese flag was projected onto the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday. The display was to honor the more than 150 people who died and thousands who were injured after an explosion in Beirut.

Trump and Macron discuss sending Lebanon immediate aid

(Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed working together with other countries to send immediate aid to Lebanon during a Friday phone call, as well as extending the United Nations arms embargo on Iran, White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

Deere said the two leaders "expressed their deep sadness over the loss of life and devastation in Beirut," the Lebanese capital where an explosion killed more than 100 people and injured thousands on Tuesday.

beirut

Lebanese president Aoun rejects calls for international probe into blast

AFP are reporting that Lebanese president Michel Aoun has rejected calls for an international investigation into the explosion at Beirut's port.  Aoun said an investigation into the blast at Beirut's port would examine whether "external interference" had a role in the explosion. "The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act," he  said, adding later that "the goal behind calls for an international investigation into the port issue is to dilute the truth".

Authorities arrested 16 port employees, including the port's general manager, as part of their investigation into the explosion.

Beirut silo

Lebanon navigates food challenge with no grain silo and few stocks

(Reuters) Tuesday’s blast in Beirut destroyed Lebanon’s only large grain silo, with plans for another in the country’s second biggest port Tripoli shelved years ago due to a lack of funding, the U.N.’s FAO, Tripoli port director and a regional grain expert told Reuters.

The destruction of the 120,000-tonne capacity structure and of the port, the main entry point for food imports, means buyers will have to rely on smaller private storage facilities for their wheat purchases, exacerbating fears of food shortages. Lebanon, a nation of an estimated 6 million people, imports almost all of its wheat. Around 15,000 tonnes were stored at the silo when the explosion hit and that Lebanon needed an inventory of around three months’ supply at any time for food security purposes.

"This is apocalypse, a nightmare - what you see in movies"

Al Jazeera sent a camera crew to Beirut to capture the apocalyptic scenes down by the ground zero area by the port and got reactions from those who have been affected by Tuesday's disaster. "Everything is broken, we have lost four very good people in our building," Beirut resident Diala Samakieh explained. "We only have seven flats in the building so you could say we have lost half of our neighbours with another two who are severely injured. Our homes are completely destroyed, the whole building cannot be lived in. This is a nightmare, these are things you only see in movies. Who does this to its own people? Why do you have more than two thousand tonnes of explosives in the middle of the city? Why?" 

 

EU pledges to aid Lebanon in wake of Beirut explosion

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says trade benefits aimed at supporting Lebanon are being explored following Tuesday's explosion in Beirut.

Read more: 

ber

80% of the port of Beirut has been completely destroyed

Tuesday's explosion at the port of Beirut was another hammer blow to the country's economy which had already been suffering the ongoing effects of the coronavirus crisis.

"Lebanon's economic crisis had already reduced the profit through the Port of Beirut from 20 million U.S. dollars to less than 10 million dollars per month. Now, as 80% of the port is destroyed, we can no longer expect any profit or benefit from the dockland facility," Patrick Mardini, president of the Lebanese Institute for Market Studies, told Xinhua News.

Doctored videos of Tuesday's explosion circulating on social media

Some of the video footage capturing Tuesday's explosion as been edited to make it look like a missile caused the blast, CNN reports. Videos shot by both CNN and eyewitnesses were inverted to become negative and have a missile-like object superimposed on top.

CNN contracted the social media companies where the doctored videos were uploaded but has only received a response from TikTok and YouTube.

beirut

Four Filipinos killed in Beirut explosion

The number of Filipinos killed in the Beirut port explosion has risen to four, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed today. The country's Foreign Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said that the Philippine Embassy to Beirut has also documented that 31 Philippine nationals were injured in the blast and one remains missing. She added that two of the 31 injured Filipinos remain in a critical condition".

 

Beirut

U.S. pledges over $17M in disaster aid for Lebanon, says embassy

The United States has pledged over $17 million in initial disaster aid for Lebanon, following Tuesday's Beirut port explosion, the U.S. embassy said on Friday. It said in a statement that the aid included food assistance, medical supplies and financial assistance for the Lebanese Red Cross. "Announcements of additional aid and assistance are forthcoming," it added.

World Food Programme plans wheat imports for Beirut

The World Food Programme plans to import wheat flour and grains for bakeries and mills to help protect against food shortages across Lebanon after Tuesday's blast wrecked its main port in Beirut, the United Nations agency said on Friday.

"WFP is concerned that the explosion and the damage to the port will exacerbate an already grim food security situation – that has worsened because of the country's profound financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic," a spokeswoman said in notes prepared for a U.N. briefing in Geneva, adding it would be providing food parcels to thousands of families.

"WFP also stands ready to offer supply chain management and logistical support and expertise to Lebanon," it said

Japan sends emergency assistance to Beirut

The Department of Humanitarian Aid and Relief in Emergencies at the Japanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement to announce: “From a humanitarian perspective, due to the close relations between Japan and Lebanon and upon the request of the Lebanese government, Japan has decided to provide urgent relief to Lebanon which includes: tents, sleeping beds, blankets, water purifiers and other essential equipment". The relief supplies were sent through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Beirut residents begin clean-up operation

Hundreds of Beirut residents have taken it upon themselves to clean up their city amid the devastation of Tuesday's explosion at the harbour. Locals have united to sweep up debris and broken glass as the city tries to return to some kind of normality in the wake of the disaster.

Beirut

16 detained in connection with Beirut explosion

Lebanese authorities will be questioning 16 individuals as part of an investigation into Tuesday's port explosion, state news agency NNA reports.

City Hall LA

Los Angeles remembers Beirut explosion victims

City Hall in Los Angeles was lit up in the colors of the Lebanese Flag, as a show of support for the victims of Tuesday's explosion in Beirut. Hundreds turned up outside City Hall to held a vigil for those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Last photograph of heroic Beirut firefighters

A photograph of 10 members of the Beirut fire department who had been called to deal with a fire at the city's port on Tuesday has emerged. It is presumed that all members of the team lost their lives in the explosion.

Beirut

Rescue workers racing against clock to find 100 missing after blast 

Emergency services are working against the clock to locate around 100 people who have been missing since Tuesday's blast at the port of Beirut, which claimed 157 lives and left 5,000 wounded.

"We are doing everything we can because we believe that there are could still be people alive and trapped but as of the moment, we have only found corpses," one member of the rescue team in Beirut, who has been working for the last 48 hours practically without any rest, explained.

Family members of those who are still missing have congregated near the site of the accident with the hope that their loved ones might have survived. The affected area is completely cordoned off to the public. The Red Cross estimate that there are around 100 people who have yet to be accounted for - the majority of them, port employees who had been working when the explosion took place.  

Beirut explosion live coverage: welcome

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the aftermath of Tuesday’s blast in Beirut, which saw two huge explosions in the Lebanese capital’s port area, caused by the detonation of around 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. The disaster has left at least 157 people dead, and thousands injured and homeless.