These days no national government should probably have to worry about any other thing than to preserve its country against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But life is never simple, and there are always other crises that will demand attention. This much is true of the Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon as anywhere else. Aside from the coronavirus, the country was reeling from an economic meltdown that has seen the poverty rate actually reach to over half the population percentage, caused by outrages such as a Central Bank-run pyramid scam and proposed taxes on things like voice app messaging. It seemed things could not get worse.
But as Tuesday, August 4 proved according to BBC, it actually can for Lebanon. That day, its capital city of Beirut was rocked by a massive explosion emanating from a fire that broke out at the Port Area at around 6PM local time (3PM GMT). The blaze began at a grain elevator in the port complex, the second largest such structure in the city. But before anyone knew what was happening a catastrophic boom sent shockwaves across Beirut, overturning cars and wrecking building walls. The worst part was the casualties, with a minimum 100 people killed and over 4,000 injured.
Social media in the Middle East abounded with footage of the mushroom cloud from the fire that transitioned into the explosion, which tended to sweep smartphone camera-users filming the action off their feet. Graphic depictions of people bathed red with blood walking the streets of Beirut were also in evidence, even as firefighters tried to contain the flames in Beirut port and first responders tended to the wounded. Even so, the casualty count was so immense that the city’s hospitals alone could barely contain them all. It was a “huge catastrophe” as stated by Lebanon Red Cross chief George Kettani.
The cause of the fire and explosion was later revealed in a public address by the Lebanese President Michael Aoun. Apparently the Port of Beirut area had a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used in the manufacture of either plant fertilizer or explosives. There was about 2,750 tons of the chemical stored there, all of which were impounded by the government ever since 2014, and their detonation was equated to the force of, at maximum, three thousand pounds of TNT. The investigation is now trying to determine how the ammonium nitrate was ignited.
Eyewitness accounts claim that the Beirut explosion was so powerful that the shockwaves were felt in the island nation of Cyprus, just to the west of the Lebanon shore in the Mediterranean Sea. What is known is that this new crisis on top of the economy and COVID-19 is not what the Lebanese government wants to confront right about now.
Closer to home as The Manila Bulletin tells it, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has confirmed that at least two Filipinos are among those killed by the blast, with a further eight wounded and 12 more reported as missing.
Image courtesy of Popular Mechanics