Beirut explosion – Frantic search for hundreds of survivors trapped under rubble after blast so big it tore off clothes
A FRANTIC search is underway for hundreds of survivors trapped under rubble after a colossal blast ripped through Beirut yesterday.
A massive explosion a fifth the size of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb killed at least 100 people in the Lebanese capital yesterday.
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The disaster was sparked when a welder ignited 2,700 tons of explosive chemicals in the port area, it’s reported.
The blast was so big it tore the clothes from people’s bodies, ripped balconies from flats and hurled cars as if they were toys.
Some 4,000 people are known to have been injured, with images showing whole city blocks flattened.
Many people are feared to still be trapped under the rubble and inside their damaged homes.
And a desperate hunt has now been launched to find survivors.
Local resident Nada Hamza told Al Jazeera: “I was a few metres away from the electricity establishment in Lebanon, which is parallel to the port.
“I went out of my car, I ran away to the entrance of one of the buildings, then I realised that the building was destroyed.
“Then, I tried to call my parents, but I couldn't reach anyone.
“I can't believe I'm still alive.”
Rescuers were today pictured dragging people from the rubble of their homes and rushing them away for treatment.
But several of Beirut’s hospitals were damaged in the blast, hampering their efforts to treat the constant stream of wounded victims.
Outside the crippled St George University Hospital, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, in cars and on foot.
Dozens of injured were being treated on the spot in the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.
Outside one hospital, Omar Kinno sat on the pavement, holding back tears.
He said one of his sisters was killed when the blast rocked their apartment near the port, and another sister’s neck was broken.
His injured mother and father were taken to a hospital but he didn’t know which, and he was making calls trying to track them down.
He said: “I have no idea what happened to my parents. I am totally lost.”
Hospitals are reportedly desperately requesting blood donations and Red Cross spokesman Georges Kettaneh said emergency services had been "overwhelmed".
Lebanon's Health Ministry has put out a call for medics to volunteer at the "nearest place you can get to" to help treat the injured people.
It is not yet known how many British nationals are among those caught up in the aftermath of a huge blast, the Foreign Office confirmed this morning.
Countries around the world have pledged support for the rescue effort, including the UK.
PM Boris Johnson said Britain stands ready to offer "any support we can" to Lebanon – and confirmed some caught up in the blast were Brits.
He added: "The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking.
"All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident."
France says it is sending two planes with dozens of emergency workers, a mobile medical unit and 15 tonnes of aid.
Jordan says a military field hospital including all necessary personnel will be dispatched and Egypt has opened a field hospital in Beirut to receive the wounded.
Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says Lebanon has accepted an offer to send a team of 37 rescuers with sniffer dogs to Beirut.
Denmark and Greece also offered assistance, while Russia promised five planeloads of aid.
The source of the blast is believed to be 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored in a warehouse without safety measures since 2014.
Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a fertiliser, but has also been linked to terror attacks after being used in homemade bombs.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has declared a state of emergency for Beirut for two weeks – and vowed the "harshest punishments" for those responsible.
Horrifying video of the explosion shows an enormous mushroom cloud over the city followed by a shockwave.
Toxic gases were also reported in the aftermath along with strange orange clouds, with the US Embassy warning any Americans in Beirut to stay inside.
Beirut governor Marwan Abboud sobbed on live TV as he compared the blast to those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the first ever nuclear bombs were dropped, killing thousands.
He said: “I’ve never seen such a big destruction. This is a national calamity, this is a disaster for Lebanon.”
Breaking down in tears, he added: “We need to remain strong, we need to hold on and be brave … but this is too much…”
He added that a team of 10 hero firefighters who raced to the initial blast had disappeared after the second massive explosion.
Up to 250,000 people have been left homeless by the explosion which caused around £5billion of damage, claimed local reports.
Locals woke to apocalyptic scenes this morning with smoke still rising from the port, where a towering grain silo was shattered.
Streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out.
"It's like a war zone. I'm speechless," Beirut's mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting the damage. "This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon."
The head of the country's Red Cross said: "What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe. There are victims and casualties everywhere."
Prime Minister Hassan Diab described the disaster as a "national catastrophe" and added "those responsible will pay the price".
His wife and daughter were injured in the explosion after it damaged his residence at The Government Palace.
The deadly blast was one of the world's biggest-ever peacetime explosions.
Lebanon's health minister Hamad Hasan said the blast was a "real catastrophe".
Damage was reported up to six miles from the explosion, with windows shattered and building facades shredded by the shockwave.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump suggested the explosion may have been a "bomb" – describing it as a "terrible attack".
British grandmother Valerie Fakhoury, 65, from Darlington, who works at Beirut's American Community School was left with blood pouring from her head in the blast.
All staff at the British embassy in Beirut are accounted for, but some have sustained "non-life-threatening injuries".
British journalist Lizzie Porter, who lives just one mile from the scene, told the Daily Mail: "It was 6.10pm and there was a rumble like thunder.
"Then the whole apartment building shook like an earthquake."
Witness Fady Roumieh said: "It was like a nuclear bomb. The damage is so widespread and severe all over the city.
"Some buildings as far as 2km are partially collapsed. It's like a war zone. The damage is extreme. Not one glass window intact."
Initial reports had claimed the blast came from a firework storage site as video appeared to show small flashes and pops in the fire before the catastrophic explosion.
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said the inferno started as small bursts like firecrackers.
He was then suddenly thrown off his feet as his clothes were torn apart by the force of the explosion's shockwave.
Another witness said: "Everyone dropped to the ground and I remember opening my eyes and… just seeing dust and a bunch of rubble"
And one added: "I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding.
"Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street."
American journalist Ben Wedeman reported live during the catastrophe from a partially wrecked bureau in Beirut.
He said: “This was something the likes I’ve never seen before… Initially I thought it was an earthquake.”
Another witness said: "All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos."
UK-based charity Save the Children said its offices in Beirut, around three miles from the harbour, were badly damaged in the explosion, which shook the building and destroyed shop fronts in the neighbourhood.
The charity said: "Save the Children teams on the ground reported entire streets wiped out, with children unaccounted for as rescue teams work through destroyed buildings to get people out of the rubble.
"Residential and commercial buildings have been shattered in what is being described as the biggest explosion in Lebanon's recent history.
"Hospitals in Beirut are reporting that they are unable to treat further casualties as hundreds of beds immediately filled up following the blast.
"A further hospital in the capital has been completely decimated.
"The military have deployed to rescue those caught in the wreckage, with medical personnel treating casualties on the streets."
The explosion comes at a time when Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
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