Lebanon’s capital city Beirut has been devastated by a massive explosion that has killed at least 70 people, including one Australian, and injured nearly 4,000.
Eyewitness footage of the explosion on Tuesday has circulated on social media, showing a large fire and subsequent blast in the city’s port area. The shockwave has destroyed nearby neighbourhoods, flattening entire buildings, overturning vehicles, and shattering windows kilometres away.
This is horrific, and the clearest video I’ve seen so far of what seems to have happened in Beirut. There’s a smaller fire involving what seems to be fireworks first, and then everything goes up. pic.twitter.com/qsEmH1IbUi— Rachael Venables (@rachaelvenables) August 4, 2020
Lebanese authorities have linked the explosion to some 2750 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at Beirut’s port for up to six years.
Officials said they expect the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dig through rubble recovering bodies.
According to Lebanon’s Red Cross, many of Beirut’s hospitals are overwhelmed and filled beyond capacity. Healthcare workers are treating people in car parks or on the street, and are using generators to keep lights on.
Photo by Lebanese photojournalist Bilal Jawich of a nurse at Beirut Roum hospital maternity ward, cradling 3 newborns and calling for help pic.twitter.com/GWopsPi4Tg— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) August 4, 2020
Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan told Reuters there are still many people missing.
“There are many people missing until now. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity. We are facing a real catastrophe and need time to assess the extent of damages,” Hassan said.
Interviewing ER doctors at some of Beirut’s biggest hospitals, and they are crying. St. George Hospital is destroyed. Patients streamed down the stairs to exit the hospital, bc elevators were damaged. Children being treated for cancer are now wounded from flying glass shards.— Maria Abi-Habib (@Abihabib) August 4, 2020
The darkest of clouds over Beirut tonight. My heart goes out to the families of the deceased. I pray for quick recoveries for those injured. If you are an Australian needing consular assistance, see the post below. pic.twitter.com/HAJyQMKgag— Rebekah Grindlay 🇦🇺🇱🇧 (@SafirAustralia) August 4, 2020
Lebanon is home to six million people, and is currently in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the country was already teetering on the edge of economic collapse. With its national currency collapsing, Lebanon has seen businesses shut, food shortages and frequent rolling blackouts. COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, leaving the country’s poorest vulnerable to poverty.
The explosion also comes as tensions are rising between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Wednesday morning that one Australian has died in the blast. The Australian embassy in Beirut was also “significantly impacted”.
“I can confirm there has been one Australian that has been killed,” Morrison said.
“Which is terribly devastating and, obviously, we can’t give more details about the specifics at this time but our sympathies to all of the people in Lebanon.
“There is such a large Lebanese Australian community here and they would be worried about loved ones. The details will hopefully be provided soon.”