Disasters & Accidents

Seawater fills crater carved by explosion in heart of Beirut

By Ana María Guzelian

Beirut, Aug 8 (efe-epa).- Seawater is filling the huge crater caused by a massive explosion in the heart of Beirut that claimed 158 lives and left the Lebanese capital city battered and covered in dust and debris.

Pieces of clothing, the wreckage of buildings and ships that were in the harbor that day are still floating in the sea in Beirut.

At the entrance to the port, which has become a makeshift graveyard, divers and rescue teams aboard two boats continue the search for more bodies.

From there one can guess what was in section 12 of the port, where the warehouse with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that devastated that part of the estuary on Tuesday was located. Today nothing remains except the water that is flooding everything.

“We have only recovered three bodies,” a military official told EFE, on grounds of anonymity.

What they have found is a “lot of human remains” that now need DNA analyses to determine who they belonged to.

“That is why it is taking some time to announce the numbers (of victims),” the official added.

From a military boat full of journalists and members of the army on Saturday, one could see a ship that had endured the onslaught of the explosion and was being jostled around by the waves as it struggled to stay afloat.

The damage becomes apparent as one gets closer and closer to a port that is full of mangled containers and collapsed buildings, a sight of a war scene.

Also visible from the boat are dozens of rescue workers drilling among the debris.

“We have helped 11 rescue teams along with Lebanese teams that are engaged in the search efforts,” Colonel Roger Khoury told EFE aboard the boat.

Access to the part of the port where the explosion occurred is not yet allowed to keep the scene of the tragedy “clean” for the investigation.

However, on Saturday, Prime Minister Hasan Diab passed through that area along with another group of journalists during a visit to the site.

The explosion has also left more than 6,000 people injured, according to the Ministry of Health, which after days of speculation and unconfirmed figures indicated on Saturday that 21 people are missing.

The blast has shocked the people of Lebanon, who are still wondering how 2,750 tons of a highly volatile fertilizer remained in a warehouse for six years without anyone doing anything.

About 20 people have been arrested so far, including the last two director-generals of Lebanese customs and the general manager of the city’s port while investigations are underway.

On Saturday, Diab said that the culprits will be held liable for the event.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Friday that no hypothesis was being ruled out and that the investigation would determine whether the explosion was due to an act of negligence or due to external intervention, a missile “or any other act.”

Neither Aoun nor the leader of the pro-Iranian party, Hassan Nasrallah, wants foreign participation in this investigation, asserting Lebanon’s sovereignty to handle its affairs.

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