Updated Aug 5, 2020 - World

Beirut explosion: Death toll rises to 135, officials under house arrest

Explosion in Beirut
Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

The death toll from Tuesday's explosion in Beirut, Lebanon has now surpassed 130, including at least one U.S. citizen, amid a search for answers as to why a huge store of ammonium nitrate was left unsecured near the city's port for nearly seven years.

What we know: The government says around 5,000 people are injured. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said current indications are that the massive explosion was accidental, despite President Trump's puzzling claim on Tuesday evening that it appeared to be a bomb attack.

  • Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the explosions occurred at a warehouse that had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for over six years.
  • It's unclear what caused the explosion, or why the materials were apparently left unsecured for so long.
  • Economy Minister Raoul Nehme blamed "incompetence and really bad management." Diab vowed that those responsible would be punished.
  • Beirut's governor, Marwan Abboud, says half the city is seriously damaged and 250,000-300,000 people have been left homeless.

Breaking it down: The ammonium nitrate, a material used in explosives as well as fertilizer, appears to have been impounded from a Russian-owned, Moldovan-flagged ship sailing from Georgia to Mozambique in September, 2013. per al-Jazeera.

  • The ship docked in Beirut after experiencing technical problems, per the report.
  • Customs officials repeatedly sought to have the material removed — by exporting it, by selling it, or by giving it to the Lebanese Army. Ultimately, it remained in the port hangar.
  • Several port officials are currently under house arrest.

Details: Eyewitness videos show smoke billowing from an initial explosion, followed by a second, far more powerful explosion.

  • The U.S. Embassy in Beirut has warned all who can to remain indoors and wear masks due to "reports of toxic gases released in the explosion." However, many now lack windows.

The big picture: The human suffering is immense in a country already struggling with a crippling financial crisis and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a massive refugee population.

  • Windows were blown from buildings across entire city blocks, some several miles away. Severely damaged hospitals have been treating patients with limited supplies, in some cases by flashlight.
  • Much of the city now appears uninhabitable. Beirut's mayor compared the damage to Hiroshima.
  • Downtown Beirut is quite compact, with roughly 360,000 people living in the city and over 2 million in the larger metro area.
  • Most of Lebanon's grain supply and other crucial exports flowed through the now-destroyed port.
  • Several countries have offered humanitarian aid, but there are serious doubts in Lebanon that it will match the level of need in a country with an insufficient food supply, collapsing economy, destroyed port and rubble-filled capital city.

On the scene: "Survivors walked by, moving faster than the jammed-up traffic. To anyone who appeared unhurt, people called out, ‘alhamdulillah al-salama,’ or, roughly translated, thank God for your safety," writes the NYT's Vivian Yee, who was injured in the blast.

In photos
The afthermath of the Beirut blast has turned this building into rubble
A woman amid rubble in the Gemmayzeh area in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut on Tuesday night. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images
Damaged buildings are seen after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut
Damaged buildings are seen after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut. Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Damaged buildings and surroundings are seen after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut l
Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky
Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images
A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut
A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port. Photo: Str/AFP via Getty Images
Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky.
Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Photo: Str/AFP via Getty Images
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