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By GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) — Search and rescue efforts continued in the Lebanese capital of Beirut as the city woke up to the devastating effects of an explosion at the city’s port on Tuesday evening.
The death toll from the explosion rose to at least 100 overnight, officials said, and at least 4,000 people were injured in the blast.
The city’s hospitals reached capacity soon after, meaning some of the wounded were forced to travel as far as Tripoli, 50 miles north, to receive treatment. At least three hospitals were damaged by the blast. Beirut’s governor said up to 300,000 people had been left homeless in the aftermath of the explosion.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning. Three days of mourning have been declared.
The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast.
Ammonium nitrate is the same fertilizer that was used to make explosives for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 25 years ago.
The ammonium nitrate appears to have been confiscated from a commercial cargo ship abandoned in Beirut in 2013, and then confiscated by the Lebanese authorities a year later.
According to lawyers who said they represented its crew, the ship, the Rhosus, was forced to dock due to technical issues in autumn 2013, and then forbidden to sail by the Lebanese authorities after they found violations during an inspection.
In a notice describing the legal dispute published on Ship Arrested, the lawyers wrote the ammonium was offloaded by Beirut’s port authorities and placed in warehouses to await auctioning or proper disposal.
Six years later, the confiscated ammonium nitrate had not been moved from the port’s warehouses.
The Lebanese Red Cross have made a series of urgent appeals for blood donations after they sent 75 ambulances and 375 paramedics to the scene. Search and rescue teams continued to look for missing people around the site on Wednesday. A firefighter at the port told ABC News that a team of 10 emergency responders who first responded to a fire at the scene, are missing, after potentially being caught in the explosion.
Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, said she was “concerned that children are among the casualties and we are aware that those who survived are traumatized and under shock.”
Drone footage from the port shows much of the area flattened by the blast, the effects of which were felt across the whole city. The United States Geological Survey reported that the explosion registered a 3.3 magnitude, with reports suggesting it was heard as far away as Cyprus, 150 miles away into the Mediterranean.
Journalists at the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, and the BBC offices in Beirut, documented the moments after the explosion hit, showing significant damage to their offices.
Roy Badaro, a Lebanese economist, told ABC News that he expected an exodus of up to one million people in the aftermath of the explosion.
“It’s beyond imagination, the repair of the country is beyond the means of Lebanese people,” he said. “All the people that contribute to the economy will leave … People nowadays they don’t have the money to repair, they don’t have the hope, they lost hope in their country. It’s a collective failure. It’s the failure of the whole country, not only in economic terms.”
Estimating the direct damage to one of the biggest ports in the eastern Mediterranean to be around $3 billion, he said the consequences will play out on the poorest in Lebanon.
“We’ll be using small ports, it will increase the prices, it will hurt the poor,” he said.
The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced that he would be visiting the stricken country Thursday.
“I will go to Beirut tomorrow to meet the Lebanese people to bring them the message of fraternity and solidarity from the French,” he posted on Twitter. “We will take stock of the situation with the political authorities.”
President Donald Trump said: “Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families. The United States stands ready to assist Lebanon.”
Lebanon is currently in a position of severe financial difficulty, with the strain on the country’s healthcare system already exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
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