Beiruts residents are in shock and mourning after an enormous explosion at the citys port ripped through the Lebanese capital, injuring more than 4,000 people and killing at least 100, according to the emergency services. Hospitals are overwhelmed, with some too damaged by the blast to operate.
The explosion, which blew out windows and destroyed property for miles around, has been initially blamed on a shipment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in an unsecured warehouse at Beiruts cargo port.
"I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened, to hold him accountable and impose the most severe penalties," Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in the early house of Wednesday morning, adding that it was unacceptable that such a volume of the explosive chemical had been present for six years in a warehouse without any "preventive measures." It wasnt immediately clear what ignited the shipment of ammonium nitrate.
The chemical is commonly used as fertilizer, but is also a component in mining explosives when combined with fuel oil and detonated by an explosive charge. Ammonium nitrate can also combust, however, when met with an intense fire, which appeared to be burning in a part of the port before the explosion took place.
Local media footage and videos uploaded to social media following the blast showed bloodied people walking through debris-strewn streets. Medical staff had to treat patients in parking lots as hospitals exceeded capacity. And countless more victims remain missing — by Wednesday morning, an Instagram page called "LocateVictimsBeirut," where residents post photos of their missing friends and family, had amassed 63,500 followers.
"I was in the car when we felt the huge blast, the airbags opened," one Beirut resident told CNBC. "I ran away — its apocalyptic. There is no other word to describe it. Were walking on glass, the entire area of Achrafieh," he said, describing one of Beiruts oldest residential quarters.
Yumna Fawaz, a local journalist, described the population as "shocked." "We lost our people and our city. My entire apartment is destroyed," she said. Another witness described "chaos," and said that many friends were injured, with some still searching for family members.
The immediate crisis in homelessness, health, overwhelmed medical services and destroyed property and businesses on top of an already crippled economy will only accelerate government collapse, Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note Wednesday morning.
"The governments credibility is declining, and large elements of the public no longer believes the government is able to manage," the consultancy wrote. "In our view this accelerates movement towards collapse of the current government. The economic crisis will also deepen as the port is the main trade valve and base for many stored goods awaiting clearance."