The death toll from the explosion that ripped through Beirut climbed to at least 100 on Wednesday, while some 4,000 people were reported to have been wounded by the massive blast at the city’s port.
Two fires were still burning at the scene of the explosion on Wednesday, which the authorities said took place at a warehouse where 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been impounded.
Helicopters are circling overhead and the army has been deployed.
The Lebanese Red Cross’s top official said 100 people had died, while health minister Hamad Hassan put the death toll at 80, both in comments to local channel LBC on Wednesday. The number is expected to rise.
The incident is a painful blow to a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades, and a rising level of coronavirus infections which were already pressuring health services.
Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council has declared Beirut a “disaster zone” and recommended that the cabinet impose a two-week state of emergency.
Social media pages have been set up in an attempt to locate the missing. A hospital in East Beirut was on Wednesday crowded with masked people waiting for information. Many of the institutions’ windows were blown out.
The blast has devastated the port, which is a crucial artery for the import-dependent nation that is already enduring soaring food prices and rising poverty because of the country’s economic crisis. The hangars which make up Beirut’s free zone were ripped apart in the blast, and a national grain silo was cracked open, spilling out its wheat.
Hospitals in Beirut have been overwhelmed by casualties, with medics forced to treat patients in veterinary clinics and car parks, patients and first responders said.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Wednesday a day of mourning. He called the gigantic explosion — which was reportedly heard as far as away as Cyprus — a “catastrophe”, and asked for international help. Countries from Qatar to the US and France pledged to send assistance.
Shops in central Beirut’s and across the city sustained huge damage.