Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion

Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion
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Smoke rises in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion
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Rescue workers help an injured man at the explosion scene that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion
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People evacuate a wounded person after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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Updated 05 August 2020

Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion

Devastating: the terrible aftermath of the Beirut explosion
  • Dozens dead, thousands injured, hospitals overwhelmed, large part of city destroyed, toxic fumes — yet politicians are still trying to score points

BEIRUT: Beirut is a devastated city. There is no other word to describe the aftermath of a massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital on Tuesday afternoon, killing dozens and injuring thousands.

The blast happened at a warehouse in the port area of the city that reportedly had been used for years to store about 3,000 tons of confiscated chemicals. It destroyed everything within a radius or more than half a mile, and caused damage to buildings as far away as nine miles. Warnings were also issued about a toxic plume of smoke that blanketed the city after the explosion.

Shortly before midnight, Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council declared Beirut a disaster zone and urged the cabinet to declare a state of emergency. The eastern part of Port of Beirut is completely destroyed. The damage to the capital is catastrophic, much worse than that caused by the Israeli attacks in 2006.

Military sources said the chemicals that exploded — believed to be ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertilizer — were confiscated several years ago and irresponsibly stored at the port, close to residential and commercial areas, under the orders of the judiciary.

Officials warned people to avoid inhaling the smog that shrouded the city after the blast, which they said could remain in the air until at least the following day. Despite this, people could be seen wandering around the city’s downtown area taking photographs of the devastation. Some were not even wearing masks to protect themselves from the toxins.

After enduring one crisis after another — from the economic crisis that has provoked sustained street protests against political corruption and mismanagement, to the pandemic and now the explosion — perhaps the people of Lebanon have simply become indifferent to disaster.

Ambulance sirens could be heard throughout the night as paramedics and volunteers worked tirelessly to rescue thousands of people injured by the explosion and take them to overwhelmed hospitals, and recover the bodies of the dead.

A number of hospitals close to Beirut’s downtown area, especially in the eastern suburb of Achrafieh, were badly damaged by the blast, leaving scores of people dead and injured. Those in less critical conditions were moved to nearby parking lots, while those with life-threatening injuries were taken to hospitals outside of Beirut. Health minister Hamad Hassan said all treatment costs will be covered by the state.

A giant plume of smoke soared as the explosion shattered windows throughout Beirut. (AFP)

Shortly before midnight, the official death toll reached 73 but this is expected to rise, according to health officials, because many missing persons “are turning up dead or critically injured under the rubble of houses and offices that were wiped out by the blast.”

A number of government buildings were damaged, including the The Grand Serail, which is the prime minister’s headquarters, the Finance Ministry and the Telecoms Ministry. The windows of offices at the Information Ministry, which is more than four miles from the Port, were shattered by the blast.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s daughter and wife, who live in the Serail, were treated for minor injuries. His health adviser, Petra Khoury, was taken from there to hospital with cuts that required stitches.

The explosion was heard more than 60 kilometers south of Beirut. It could be felt in other countries, with the Jordan Seismological Observatory reporting that it was equivalent to an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale.

The heads of many Arab and other foreign states pledged to provide urgent assistance to Lebanon. Yet despite the disaster, some politicians in the country refuse to put aside their political differences to focus on helping the people of the city. As Diab and President Michel Aoun called for an immediate investigation into the cause of the disaster to determine who is responsible and what assistance is needed, opposition parties were already blaming the recently-formed government.


Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
Updated 41 min 20 sec ago

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
  • In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season

BEIRUT: Death stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new normal. On Friday, the mood among the staff was even more solemn as a young woman lost the battle with the virus.
There was silence as the woman, barely in her 30s, drew her last breath. Then a brief commotion. The nurses frantically tried to resuscitate her. Finally, exhausted, they silently removed the oxygen mask and the tubes — and covered the body with a brown blanket.
The woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is one of 57 victims who died on Friday and more than 2,150 lost to the virus so far in Lebanon, a small country with a population of nearly 6 million that since last year has grappled with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousand of expatriates flew home for a visit.
Now, hospitals across the country are almost completely out of beds. Oxygen tanks, ventilators and most critically, medical staff, are in extremely short supply. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted. Facing burnout, many of their colleagues left.
Many others have caught the virus, forcing them to take sick leave and leaving fewer and fewer colleagues to work overtime to carry the burden.
To every bed that frees up after a death, three or four patients are waiting in the emergency room waiting to take their place.
Mohammed Darwish, a nurse at the hospital, said he has been working six days a week to help with surging hospitalizations and barely sees his family.
“It is tiring. It is a health sector that is not good at all nowadays,” Darwish said.
More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, and around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis-ridden country in recent months, according to the Order of Physicians. The virus is putting an additional burden on a public health system that was already on the brink because of the country’s currency crash and inflation, as well as the consequences of the massive Beirut port explosion last summer that killed almost 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated entire sectors of the city.
“Our sense is that the country is falling apart,” World Bank Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha, told reporters in a virtual news conference Friday.
At the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the main government coronavirus facility, there are currently 40 beds in the ICU — all full. According to the World Health Organization, Beirut hospitals are at 98% capacity.
Across town, at the private American University Medical Center — one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals — space is being cleared to accommodate more patients.
But that’s not enough, according to Dr. Pierre Boukhalil, head of the Pulmonary and Critical Care department. His staff were clearly overwhelmed during a recent visit by The Associated Press, leaping from one patient to another amid the constant beep-beep of life-monitoring machines.
The situation “can only be described as a near disaster or a tsunami in the making,” he said, speaking to the AP in between checking on his patients. “We have been consistently increasing capacity over the past week or so, and we are not even keeping up with demands. This is not letting up.”
Boukhalil’s hospital raised the alarm last week, coming out with a statement saying its health care workers were overwhelmed and unable to find beds for “even the most critical patients.”
Since the start of the holiday season, daily infections have hovered around 5,000 in Lebanon, up from nearly 1,000 in November. The daily death toll hit record-breaking more than 60 fatalities in in the past few days.
Doctors say that with increased testing, the number of cases has also increased — a common trend. Lebanon’s vaccination program is set to begin next month.
The World Bank said Thursday it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
Jha, the World Bank’s regional director, said Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people that “we are financing in full.” He added that the World Bank also plans to help finance vaccines other than Pfizer in the Mediterranean nation.
Darwish, the nurse, said many COVID-19 patients admitted to Rafik Hariri and especially in the ICU, are young, with no underlying conditions or chronic diseases.
“They catch corona and they think everything is fine and then suddenly you find the patient deteriorated and it hits them suddenly and unfortunately they die,”
On Thursday night, 65-year-old Sabah Miree was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. She was put on oxygen to help her breathe. Her two sisters had also caught the virus but their case was mild. Miree, who suffers from a heart problem, had to be hospitalized.
“This disease is not a game,” she said, describing what a struggle it is for her to keep breathing. “I would say to everyone to pay attention and not to take this lightly.”
A nationwide round-the-clock curfew imposed on Jan. 14 was extended on Thursday until Feb. 8 to help the health sector deal with the virus surge.
“I still have nightmares when I see a 30-year-old who passed away,” said Dr. Boukhalil. “The disease could have been prevented.”
“So stick with the lockdown ... it pays off,” he said.