A massive explosion at Lebanon's main port rocked Beirut, overwhelming hospitals dealing with the injured and dying. The blast was so large it blew out windows across the capital and was even heard from Cyprus.
Authorities say it was caused by highly explosive materials at the port, but didn’t say whether it was an accident or an attack. Health Minister said death toll from a huge blast at Beirut port has risen to at least 113 people and injuring over 4,000.
Video footage showed what appeared to be a fire, followed by crackling lights and then a much larger explosion as an enormous cloud of smoke rapidly engulfed the area around the Port of Beirut. Buildings in the area and miles away were severely damaged, including the electricity company and other government entities.
The price of oil climbed to the highest level in almost two weeks as the blast stoked fears over instability in the region. U.S. benchmark crude futures climbed 1.7%.
The aftermath of the explosion left people rushing for help on foot and motorbikes, some with blood streaming over their faces, outside a Beirut hospital. One hospital said it had taken in 400 people and others appealed for blood donations, saying they’d reached their capacity.
President Donald Trump said in Washington that U.S. military officials “seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.” He said he “met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was. This was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event.”
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo expressed his condolences and said in a statement, “We are closely monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this tragedy.”
The explosion took place during the first of a two-day grace period that the government had given citizens before it reinforces a full lockdown with a curfew to contain the coronavirus epidemic after the country saw a major spike in cases in recent weeks.
Beirut and its suburbs are home to many embassies, nongovernmental organizations and most government entities and agencies as well as ministries and headquarters of political parties. The general secretary of the Kataeb Party, Nizar Najarian, was killed in the explosion. He was chairing a meeting for the party at its headquarters, near the site of the blast.
Debris has covered the entire port, damaging trucks and other shipping containers. Black smoke could still be seen billowing into the sky hours after the blast. The port receives handles 6 million tons of shipments a year and is the country’s main port.
Lebanon is reeling under its worst financial and economic crisis, with a sharp plunge in its local currency eroding purchasing power and throwing many into poverty and unemployment. The government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion bailout and has tried to collect aid from Gulf countries, but to no avail.
Gulf countries are wary that any funds would be channeled to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group that’s listed by those countries and the U.S. as a terrorist group. The foreign minister resigned earlier this week, saying Lebanon could become a failed state.
A shortage of U.S. dollars has wreaked havoc on an economy almost completely reliant on imported goods. The central bank is using whatever is left of its reserves to subsidize the import of wheat, fuel and medicine and has recently said it would help import essential food items, albeit at a weaker exchange rate.
(Source: Bloomberg QuickTake News YouTube channel)