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Beirut explosion rocks Lebanon’s capital city

Here's what we know about the Beirut explosion
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What you need to know

  • At least 137 people were killed and 5,000 wounded in a massive explosion that shook Beirut on Tuesday, according to Lebanon’s health minister.
  • Hundreds have been reported missing, raising fears that the death toll will rise, the health minister said Wednesday. 
  • More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Authorities declared Beirut a “disaster city” and imposed a two-week state of emergency.
  • It’s still unclear what exactly caused the explosion. Lebanon’s prime minister said an investigation would focus on an estimated 2,750 metric tons of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse.

Our live coverage of the Beirut blast and its aftermath has moved here.

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Coronavirus cases may rise in Lebanon over the next 10 days, says health minister

An ambulance is seen in Beirut on August 5.

Covid-19 infections may increase in Lebanon over the next 10 days in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, the country’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.

Hassan told radio station Sawt Loubnan that coronavirus cases may climb because of interactions between the wounded and doctors without personal protection equipment, according to the state news agency NNA.

He added that emergency field hospitals would have designated sections to treat coronavirus patients.

Lebanese hospitals have been overwhelmed after an explosion struck Beirut’s port on Tuesday, killing at least 137 and wounding 5,000. Four hospitals were damaged in the blast.

Lebanon recorded 209 coronavirus cases on Tuesday and 146 cases on Wednesday, according to an official statement by the Health Ministry on Twitter. 

The country has had a total of 5,417 coronavirus cases with 68 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

France's Emmanuel Macron pledges support to Lebanon, but calls for reforms against corruption 

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, walks with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 6.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said “unconditional help is the priority” in the wake of the devastating Beirut blast, but also warned that unless reforms were implemented “Lebanon will continue to sink.”

Macron landed in the Lebanese capital on Thursday and was welcomed by President Michel Aoun.

Speaking shortly after his arrival, Macron stressed that there needed to be a fight against corruption in the country’s energy sector and public contracts.

Officials have blamed the devastating explosion on 2,750 metric tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate.

There is mounting public anger in Lebanon at the political class over revelations that the blast may be linked to government negligence.

Macron added that the Lebanese authorities have a “historic responsibility” in the current crisis.

France has sent an aid package to Lebanon which includes two military planes, 55 personnel, 15 tons of equipment and a mobile clinic able care for 500 wounded people.

One French national was killed in the blast and 24 others were injured, Junior Minister to France’s Foreign Ministry Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told France Inter radio on Thursday.

German embassy employee killed in Beirut blast

An employee of the German embassy in Beirut was killed in Tuesday’s explosion, Germany’s foreign minister has confirmed.

“Our worst fears have come true,” Heiko Maas said in a statement Thursday.
“A member of the German embassy was killed in her apartment in Beirut as a result of the massive explosion. All staff of the foreign ministry are in deep mourning at the loss of our colleague.”
Maas added: “I have offered my heartfelt condolences to the family and the staff of the embassy in Beirut, also on behalf of my colleagues and the Federal Government. My thanks go to all those throughout the world who, like our departed colleague, put themselves at great personal risk every day in the service of our country.”

At least 137 people were killed in the blast, with many more still missing.

China provides medical assistance to Lebanon

Xi Jinping, China's president, speaks during a news conference in Athens, Greece, on November 11, 2019.

A Chinese medical team from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) will provide aid to Beirut in the aftermath of Tuesday’s disaster, according to Chinese state media.

The UNIFL is a peacekeeping team which supports the Lebanese armed forces in the south of the country.

On Thursday Chinese president Xi Jinping sent condolences to his Lebanese counterpart.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and the Chinese people, and in my own name, I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims, extend my sincere condolences to the injured and the families of the victims,” Xi said, according to public broadcaster CCTV.

The peacekeeping team will bring medical supplies to Beirut and assist in the response efforts.

“After we received the order from the UNIFIL, we selected some personnel and set up a command team, a transportation team, a medical team and a support team, and we also made preparation of the necessary supplies carefully. Now we are waiting for the order to set out,” Li Ruzhen, head of medical detachment for the 18th batch of Chinese peacekeeping troops to Lebanon said, according to CCTV.

One Chinese citizen was injured during the blast, the Chinese Embassy in Lebanon said on Wednesday.

Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall send condolences to Lebanon

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, attend an event on February 20 at Buckingham Palace in London.

Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess Cornwall have said their “hearts go out” to the people of Lebanon, in a message of condolence sent to the country’s president.

In the letter, posted on the couple’s official Twitter account on Thursday, the heir to the British throne wrote:

“My wife and I wanted you to know how deeply we feel for all the people of Lebanon following the horrific explosion in Beirut, which has resulted in the tragic death of so many and caused such unimaginable devastation. 

“Our hearts go out to all those who have lost loved ones, and all those who have been so terribly injured.”

The UK will send £5 million ($6.6 million) in aid to Lebanon and will also provide medical and search and rescue experts to help in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters on Wednesday.

Beirut blast death toll rises to 137

Smoke rises above damaged buildings at Beirut's port on August 5.

The death toll from the Beirut explosion rose to 137 late on Wednesday, with 5,000 people wounded, according to Lebanese state news agency NNA, citing Health Minister Hamad Hassan.

Speaking to radio station Sawt Libnan on Thursday, and carried by NNA, Hassan said: “We are in contact with Arab and European countries to secure medical aid for Lebanon … what is required today is to set up field hospitals in the capital and this should include military hospitals.”

Germany will send rescue and recovery specialists to Lebanon 

Germany will send a unit of 50 rescue and recovery specialists to Lebanon, the German Technical Assistance Agency, THW, announced Thursday on Twitter. 

The specialists from the Rapid Reaction Force for Recovery Abroad will work to trace people trapped under structures and rescue them.

They also specialize in quickly repairing damaged infrastructure like water systems.

Hundreds of people are still missing after the blast, and that number is continuing to increase, Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Wednesday.

Shock turns to anger in Beirut over warnings before deadly explosion

Shock at the devastation caused by the massive port explosion in Beirut was giving way to anger Thursday, as new information emerged that officials in the Lebanese capital had ignored repeated warnings about a stockpile of dangerous chemicals linked to the blast.

There is a growing body of evidence, including emails and public court documents, that officials knew about a shipment of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate – once described as a “floating bomb” – that had been confiscated by Lebanese authorities and was being stored in a warehouse at the port for the past six years, but had failed to act.

The revelation that the blast could be attributed to government negligence has reignited long-held frustration at Lebanon’s political class, which sunk the country deep into debt, and at endemic corruption that lined the pockets of the wealthy elite at the expense of basic public services and infrastructure.

But years of government corruption has left little hope among those on the streets that any investigation will get to the truth of why such large quantities of the dangerous chemical were allowed to be stored in the middle of the city without adequate safety measures – and who is responsible.

Jad Chaaban, associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, said “this is a criminal attack by the ruling state.”

“They have committed a crime by storing these nitrates for more than a decade there, with no accountability,” Chaaban said, adding that there is a rising anger among the people.

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TOPSHOT - A Lebanese youth hugs French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the Gemmayzeh neighborhood, which has suffered extensive damage due to a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital, on August 6, 2020. - French President Emmanuel Macron visited shell-shocked Beirut, pledging support and urging change after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Beirut port employees detained in investigation after devastating explosion sparks fury

Human Rights Watch calls for independent investigation into the blast

The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch has called on Lebanese authorities to invite international experts for an independent investigation into Tuesday’s blast, which rocked the capital Beirut.

“Given the Lebanese authorities’ repeated failure to investigate serious government failings and the public’s distrust of government institutions, an independent investigation with international experts is the best guarantee that victims of the explosion will get the justice they deserve,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon’s researcher at HRW, in a statement on Thursday.

“The investigation should determine the causes and responsibility for the explosion and recommend measures to ensure it cannot happen again. The Lebanese government should ensure that those affected by the blast have access to adequate housing, food, water, and health care, with all aid distributed fairly and impartially.”

Questions of judicial independence: Human Rights Watch expressed serious concerns about the ability of the Lebanese judiciary to conduct a credible and transparent investigation on its own.

“Lebanese and international rights groups have for years documented political interference in the judiciary and criticized its lack of independence,” the statement said. “Further, initial evidence suggests that some judges were aware that the ammonium nitrate was stored in Beirut’s port and allegedly failed to take action,” the statement added 

Some context: Authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosion, but Lebanon’s prime minister said the probe would focus on an estimated 2,750 metric tons of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse at the port.

It has been there since 2014, despite the director of Lebanese Customs repeatedly warning the government of its danger over the years.

One French citizen dead and 24 injured from the explosion

One French national died in the Beirut blast and 24 others were injured, the Junior Minister to France’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

French architect Jean-Marc Bonfils was killed in the explosion, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told France Inter radio.

Among the 24 others, three have serious injuries, Lemoyne added.

Around 25,000 French citizens live in Lebanon, with about eight out of 10 holding dual nationality.

France's Macron will meet Lebanon's President to discuss the path forward after the blast

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday, the Elysée Palace told CNN.

Macron wants to “say that France is there” at Lebanon’s side, said the Elysée. This trip is an opportunity for him to “restore the confidence of the Lebanese people, to tell them there is a path forward and that France is here to walk this path with them.”

It is also an “opportunity to set the clear basis for a contract for the restoration of Lebanon, demanding for all, limiting conflicts, offering an immediate relief with a long term perspective,” according to the Elysée.

The schedule: Macron will land around noon local time and will be welcomed by Aoun, the Elysee Palace said. Macron will then discuss with Aoun, with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and with House Speaker Nabih Berri successively. 

He will also meet with Lebanese and French rescue teams, and will visit the French Ambassador’s residence.

Macron will hold a news conference at 6:30 p.m. local time before leaving for Paris.

Opinion: Don't blame fate for Beirut's cruel tragedy

Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

Sometimes, it seems as if fate is trying to prove its unlimited capacity for cruelty. When the skies over Beirut exploded on Tuesday, sending shockwaves felt all the way to Cyprus, 150 miles away in the Mediterranean, and devastating much of a city that was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, it seemed one of those times.

But the never-ending tragedy that is Lebanon is not the result of the random doings of destiny.

Lebanon’s government has blamed a large quantity of poorly stored ammonium nitrate for the blast that rocked the city, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and destroying the capital’s critical port, through which most of the goods Lebanon needs – including food – enter the country. Some 300,000 may have been left homeless.

Initial investigations of the catastrophe appear to show it was the result of a confluence of ludicrously reckless practices and non-existent concern for safety – though we can’t know for sure this early. The Prime Minister has promised a full investigation.

The Lebanese people have long suffered as a consequence of the actions and behavior of venal, incompetent individuals; of power-hungry politicians, businesspeople, and shadowy figures, and of geopolitical actors who have made the country their plaything at the expense of good governance.

So it was not surprising that the explosion immediately ignited a storm of speculation and suspicion. What and who caused the cataclysm, everyone wanted to know.

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A Lebanese army helicopter flies over Beirut ports silo on August 5, 2020 in the aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital. - Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut today after a cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Opinion: Don't blame fate for Beirut's cruel tragedy

A Russian ship's cargo of dangerous ammonium nitrate was stranded in Beirut port for years

Military personnel stand amid debris on August 5, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Lebanese officials investigating Tuesday’s blast in Beirut have pointed to a possible cause: A massive shipment of agricultural fertilizer that authorities say was stored in the port of Beirut without safety precautions for years, despite warnings by local officials.

The shipment contained ammonium nitrate (AN), a highly volatile compound used in fertilizers – and in explosives for mining.

How did the AN end up in Beirut port? In 2013, the MV Rhosus set off from Batumi, Georgia, destined for Mozambique. It was carrying 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate.

The Moldovan-flagged ship stopped in Greece to refuel. That’s when the ship’s owner told the Russian and Ukrainian sailors that he had run out of money and they would have to pick up additional cargo to cover the travel costs – which led them on a detour to Beirut.

Once in Beirut, the ship was detained by local port authorities due to “gross violations in operating a vessel,” unpaid fees to the port, and complaints filed by the Russian and Ukrainian crew.

It never resumed its journey. The sailors eventually abandoned the ship, and the Russian crew was brought back home.

“At the time, on board of the dry cargo ship there were particularly dangerous goods – ammonium nitrate, which the port authorities of Beirut did not allow to unload or transfer to another ship,” said the Seafarers’ Union of Russia, which represented the Russian sailors.

The AN was unloaded in Beirut’s port by November 2014 and stored in a hangar, where it was kept for six years, despite repeated warnings from the Director of Lebanese Customs of the “extreme danger” that it posed.

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A drone picture shows the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the city's port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

How tons of potentially explosive cargo were stranded at Beirut port

Turkish military plane carrying aid arrives in Beirut

A Turkish military plane carrying aid and equipment has arrived in Beirut, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported on Thursday.

Mehmet Gulluoglu, Turkey’s Head of Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, arrived on the plane, which was loaded with medical supplies, medicine, and advanced equipment to detect and search for missing people, according to NNA. 

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Kheir, the Head of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission, thanked Turkey for its assistance and praised “all the countries that rushed to the rescue of Lebanon in the dire conditions it is going through,” NNA said.

A grandmother played "Auld Lang Syne" on a piano, the only thing left in her destroyed home

Chaos would be an understatement to describe the scene at May Abboud Melki’s house in Beirut on Wednesday evening. Furniture was strewn about, the walls punctured with holes, glass and debris all over the floor.

But for a few minutes, the world paused and things seemed peaceful as the 79-year-old played “Auld Lang Syne” on the only item seemingly left unscathed – her beloved piano.

Thankfully, the grandmother and her husband weren’t home during Tuesday’s massive explosion. Neither were injured in the blast.

When they returned on Wednesday, however, they were devastated to see that the home that they had lived in for 60 years was in shambles.

As soon as May Abboud Melki entered the house, she headed straight to her piano, which had been a gift from her father on her wedding day.

As about a dozen volunteers swept up the glass and tried cleaning up the house, she sat at the piano and started playing.

She started with the classic “Auld Lang Syne,” but then started playing Arabic hymns, which prompted the volunteers to gather around and start worshiping. “To see her lean into her faith, lean into God was something that was a strong message to her community and our family immediately,” her granddaughter said.

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beirut explosion auld lang syne piano trnd

A grandmother played 'Auld Lang Syne' on a piano surrounded by rubble from the Beirut explosion