By Isaac J. Martín
Beirut, Aug 12 (efe-epa).- Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Wednesday that the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut blamed for 171 deaths caused economic losses of more than $15 billion and he acknowledging having known beforehand about the stored ammonium nitrate which fueled the tragedy.
“President Aoun was informed on 20 July through a state security report about the presence of a large amount of ammonium nitrate in one of the wards of the port of Beirut,” his office said on Twitter.
In addition to the 171 fatalities, the blast left more than 6,000 people injured and as many as 250,000 Beirut residents homeless.
And while local authorities in Beirut offered damage estimates in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion, Aoun’s office issued a statement Wednesday with the much higher figure of $15 billion.
“President Aoun received a condolences and solidarity call from the Spanish King Felipe VI: the initial estimations of the losses of the port explosion exceed $15 billion,” the statement said.
The king assured Aoun that the Spanish government was ready to extend “any additional effort” to aid in Beirut’s recovery, according to the statement.
A Spanish air force plane landed in Beirut on Tuesday carrying 10 tons of wheat flour donated by the Olof Palme International Foundation and medical supplies from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.
The United Nations under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, said earlier that reconstruction in Beirut will cost billions of dollars.
Aoun’s admission that he had prior knowledge of the ammonium nitrate followed days of media speculation that both he and Prime Minister Hassan Diab – who resigned Monday but continues to lead a caretaker administration – were aware of the presence of the explosive substance in a warehouse at the port.
The consignment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a common component in fertilizer and in explosives used for mining, had been sitting in the warehouse since June 2014. The vessel carrying the cargo from Georgia to Mozambique docked in Beirut in 2013 due to mechanical problems.
Lebanese authorities deemed the M/V Rhosus not-seaworthy and the owner ultimately abandoned both the ship and the cargo.
“The Presidency of the Republic has every desire that the judicial investigation takes its course according to the texts and using all experiences to show the complete truth about the explosion, its circumstances and those responsible for it at all levels,” Aoun’s office said Wednesday.
“The military adviser to his excellency informed the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Defense,” in the presence of the Cabinet “to take the necessary measures,” the statement added.
Aoun has been under mounting pressure. not only from protesters calling for the departure of the ruling elite but also from within Lebanon’s political class.
In other developments on Wednesday, caretaker Economy Minister Raoul Nehme dismissed concerns that Lebanon faces a “bread crisis” because the explosion destroyed the grain silos in the port.
Lebanon’s flour mills have 32,000 tons on hand and made provisions to acquire an additional 110,000 tons within a period of two weeks, Nehme said on Twitter.
“The reserves are sufficient for four months,” he wrote. EFE ijm/jlp/ta/dr