Hundreds of thousands of people in Beirut are facing uncertainty following a massive explosion that destroyed their homes and prompted authorities to declare a two-week state of emergency.
Felt far beyond the Lebanese capital, the explosion on Tuesday in port warehouses storing ammonium nitrate displaced some 250,000 people and caused up to $5bn in damage.
As of Wednesday evening, the confirmed death toll had topped 130 people, with some 5,000 others wounded.
Initial investigations into the Beirut port blast indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material caused the explosion that killed more than 100 people, an official source familiar with the findings said.
The prime minister and presidency have said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
The issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and “nothing was done” to order the material be removed or disposed of. The head of Beirut port and the head of customs both said on Wednesday that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the dangerous material be removed, but no action was taken.
Lebanese officials have pleaded to the international community to support a country already reeling from a major economic crisis and a surging coronavirus outbreak.
And while a number of countries have offered their support, the devastation has also spawned a flurry of domestic initiatives that have seen authorities, charities and social media users rushing to find shelters, food and water to those left without a home.
The aftermath of the explosion has dealt a further blow to the already deep sense of frustration and anger among many Lebanese who took to the streets en masse last year to demand an overhaul of the country’s political system.
Meanwhile in India , a 740-tonne consignment of ammonium nitrate lying at a Chennai port Customs warehouse since September 2015 has set alarm bells ringing after Tuesday’s catastrophic Beirut blast. Referring to this blast in a note, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has “urgently directed” Customs and its field formations to “immediately verify and confirm within 48 hours that any hazardous and explosive material lying in warehouses and ports across the country meets all safety and fire standards and presents no danger to life and property.” After the Beirut blast, the Chennai stockpile, sources said, was the red flag for the alert. A senior Customs official said that “ways to shift out the ammonium nitrate at the earliest” are being explored.
India said on Thursday that it has sought an assessment from Lebanon on the damage during the powerful explosion in Beirut to decide the nature of assistance that can be extended.