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)
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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)
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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

  • 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.


Qatar comes to Turkey’s ‘rescue’ amid public outcry

Updated 27 November 2020

Qatar comes to Turkey’s ‘rescue’ amid public outcry

  • The bilateral ties have sparked a public outcry, with people criticizing the sale of strategic assets to the Gulf nation
  • Turkey transferred 10 percent of shares in the Istanbul stock exchange to the Qatar Investment Authority

ANKARA: Turkey and Qatar on Thursday signed investment deals worth millions of dollars, as part of the developing relationship between the two countries.
The external funding will help to alleviate Turkey’s currency crisis, which has seen the lira lose about 40 percent of its value this year due to depleted foreign reserves.
But the bilateral ties have sparked a public outcry, with people criticizing the sale of strategic assets to the Gulf nation. 
Turkey transferred 10 percent of shares in the Istanbul stock exchange to the Qatar Investment Authority, and the Turkish Wealth Fund’s stake in the stock exchange dropped to 80.6 percent as a result.
Qatar, having already poured $15 billion into currency swap deals, has also bought the transfer of 42 percent of shares in one of Turkey’s biggest shopping malls, Istinye Park on Qatar Street in Istanbul, for $1 billion. It has also pledged to invest in the Istanbul Golden Horn marina project.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, criticized the government for signing the deals with Qatar, saying that even the sale of the presidential palace to the Gulf country would come as no surprise.
“Where does your love for Qatar come from? Everything is being sold,” he said during a TV program on Friday.
Critics see the Qatari investment money as an alarming trend for the Turkish economy, dubbing the agreements as the “best Black Friday deal.”
According to Hakan Kara, an economics professor at Bilkent University in Ankara and former chief economist at the Central Bank of Turkey, concentrated funding from a single source mostly driven by personal relationships was at odds with the Turkish government’s previous emphasis on “the need to reduce the dependence on foreign capital.”
“History shows that such reliance on personal ties may bring compromises in many other areas,” he told Arab News.
The agreements will bring $300 million of capital flows to Turkey. Total investments from Qatar to Turkey have reached $22 billion.
Dr. Robert C. Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C., said while Qatari economic support for Turkey had been forthcoming in recent years, there were also political dimensions to these initiatives.
“A substantial increase in Qatari equity capital in Turkey has offset declining Saudi and Emirati investments over the years,” he told Arab News. “Qatari investments into Turkey spiked from 2015-2016, suggesting that the strengthening of this economic partnership preceded the 2017 Gulf rift and likely had its roots in the earlier 2014 regional dispute.”
Although securing new investment deals with Qatar is important for coping with the difficult economic times that Turkey is experiencing, experts have noted the need for economic diversification.
“Turkey still needs to expand and deepen its economic ties with other countries. Qatari-Turkish ties are but one of many linkages needed to support Turkey’s massive economy. A big risk for Turkey is that the politicization of its trade and investment deals today limits future opportunities,” Mogielnicki added.
According to Timothy Ash, a London-based senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, the recent deals are part of the long-running strong ties between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration and Qatar.
“Although Qatar has proved to be an active and dynamic investor in Turkey, I think that the $15 billion in financing is not a game changer,” he told Arab News. “They are useful but still pale into insignificance compared to Turkey’s annual $200 billion external financing needs. Doha pledged $15 billion in support to Turkey in 2018. That was supposed to comprise $5 billion in swaps, $5 billion in loans and $5 billion in investments. In the end, the loans were converted to a total of $10 billion in swaps and I think what we are seeing this week is the investment angle rolled out. I don’t think this is new money.”