It sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and rattled windows on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.
President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
He told the nation the government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable, and to sanction them with the most severe punishment.” An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence”, saying nothing was done” by committees and judges to order the removal of hazardous material.
Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in Lebanon’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance. “This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon.
” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting damage he estimated ran into billions of dollars. The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, said at least 100 people were killed and search efforts continued.
Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on missing relatives, Lebanon’s MTV footage showed.
The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea where rescue teams tried to recover bodies. Many of those killed were port and custom employees and people working in the area or driving through during the Tuesday evening rush hour.
Façades of central Beirut buildings were ripped off, furniture was sucked into streets, and roads were strewn with glass and debris. Cars near the port were flipped over.
“This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone. My building shuddered, I thought it was an earthquake,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.
The country’s main grain silo at Beirut port was also destroyed in the blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but enough flour to avoid a crisis, the economy minister said.
Raoul Nehme told Reuters that Lebanon
needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas. “There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon
on the long term.” He said grain reserves in Lebanon's remaining silos stood at “a bit less than a month”, but said the destroyed silos had only held 15,000 tonnes of the grain at the time, much less than capacity which one official put at 120,000 tonnes.
UN agencies are meeting on Wednesday to coordinate relief efforts for Beirut, Tamara al-Rifai, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, told Reuters.
Lebanon is trying to transfer immediately four vessels carrying 25,000 tonnes of flour to the port in Tripoli, one official told LBCI news channel.
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