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Lebanon calls for help as Beirut rolls out of blast



Lebanon's Economy Minister has called for international assistance, saying the country with a cash burden did not have the financial capacity to "meet the consequences" of the Beirut port explosion, which is believed to have caused billions of dollars in damage.

Speaking to Sky News Arabia on Thursday, less than 48 hours after a huge explosion in the port of Beirut that killed at least 137 people and injured 5,000, Raoul Nehme said it was necessary to assess the damage. Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud has set the damage value at $ 3 billion dollars – $ 5 billion dollars.

Donors have withheld financial assistance as Lebanon's economic crisis has deepened due to long-standing frustration over Lebanese politicians' failure to implement reforms and concerns about corruption.

Many countries have now promised emergency aid to help Lebanon, which is one of the world's worst indebted countries and has been in economic free fall since late last year. But donors are expected to want to see serious reforms before providing the more comprehensive financial aid Beirut needs to ease the economic crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday became the first foreign leader to visit Beirut since the disaster, after saying he wanted to "bring a message of brotherhood and solidarity" to the Lebanese people. Aid workers say he will demand profound changes to build a "new Lebanon", according to Reuters reports.

Beirut was already in talks with the IMF in hopes of receiving a bailout after defaulting on its $ 90 billion debt ceiling in March, but negotiations had stalled due to political strife in Lebanon.

Nehme said cooperation with the IMF was "the only solution."

In an economic recovery plan that ended in April, the government tapped to receive $ 1

0 billion in international support. The Lebanese pound has collapsed and inflation has risen to about 56 percent, while the IMF predicts that the economy will contract 12 percent this year.

A woman sits in front of a damaged building after the huge explosion © Nabil Mounzer / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock
Aerial photo of destroyed structures at the harbor © El Achkar / Getty

Many countries have now pledged aid.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday morning that the bloc "mobilized over € 33 million until the first emergency with additional support was considered" for Lebanon.

Britain has earned up to £ 5 million in humanitarian funding available, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Washington will "announce a number of things we intend to do to help the people of Lebanon in the coming days". Meanwhile, regional players from Turkey to Iran and oil-rich Gulf states have flown in medical and emergency supplies.

Mr Nehme said that the grain silos in the harbor were "totally damaged" in the explosion. Aid organizations have warned that the loss of wheat, which is a major component of the diet of Lebanon's poorest, could affect food supplies.

Late on Wednesday, Lebanon declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut and ordered the house arrest of all those involved in the storage of volatile chemicals accused of the huge explosion.

The Cabinet made the decision when the investigation was monitored, which is why the authorities allowed 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to be stored in the city's port for six years.

Lebanese leaders have said that the first investigations into Tuesday's explosion indicate that it was caused by ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can also be used in bombs.

Many Lebanese blame the ruling elite, which is perceived to be full of corruption, for the economic disorder and the functional state.

Experts said that there were strict regulations governing the bulk storage of ammonium nitrate.

Lebanese authorities seized an Africa-bound ship carrying 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut in late 2013, according to legal reports at the time. The law firm that is prosecuting the case said that the cargo had been unloaded in a warehouse.

Past Chemical Disasters

Tianjin, China (2015)

© Getty

A series of explosions that started in a warehouse for toxic chemicals in the northern Chinese port city led to 173 deaths, most of them firefighters and police, leaving 800 injured.

The blasts swept through an industrial area, destroying thousands of new cars, transporting containers and buildings and punching out a giant crater. Financial losses were estimated at $ 1.1 billion. Mismanagement and illegal storage of dangerous substances were accused, with a court later sentencing 49 people to prison.

Toulouse, France (2001)

© Pascal Le Segretain / Sygma / Getty

An explosion at the AZF fertilizer plant 10 days after the September 11 attacks left about 30 people dead and caused more than 2,000 accidents. The blast had the magnitude of a magnitude 3.4 earthquake.

It was later discovered to have been the result of contamination of the ammonium nitrate with another compound used to purify pool water. In 2017, a court found a subsidiary of the oil company Total partly responsible and convicted the factory's former boss.

Texas City, USA (1947)

© Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty

A fire aboard the anchored ship SS Grandcamp detonated the cargo of ammonium nitrate, sent fireballs to the sky and triggered a 15-foot tidal wave.

One of the largest ever non-nuclear explosions, it was the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history, killing at least 581 people and injuring more than 5,000.

A chain reaction of fires destroyed nearby chemical plants and oil storage facilities, the bombing of European cities in World War II that had just ended.

Oppau, Germany (1921)

© ullstein bild / Getty

The disaster occurred when hundreds of tons of manure exploded. About 561 lives were lost, about 2,000 people were injured and most of the city's buildings were decimated.

The explosion was reportedly heard 350 km away in Munich. The incident occurred during the routine use of small dynamite charges to loosen a cured mixture of ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate in a silo.

Michael Pooler


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