As of 5 August 2020, search, rescue and recovery efforts remain ongoing near the Port of Beirut following a large accidental explosion that occurred on the evening of 4 August. The powerful blast caused significant damage to buildings and vehicles in the capital Beirut, particularly near the city’s seafront area. At least 100 people were killed and 4,000 others were injured as a result of the blast, and it is highly likely that the death toll will increase further. Additionally, approximately 300,000 people were displaced from their residences due to the explosion. Officials have launched an investigation into the blast that was reportedly caused by the detonation of at least 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at a port warehouse without adherence to required safety measures.
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (OLBA/BEY) is open and operational, although a part of the roof at the facility collapsed due to the blast. Hospitals in Beirut remain overwhelmed with casualties caused by the explosion. Several hospitals in the city sustained damage from the explosion, and began treating patients in the open air. Prior to the explosion, intensive care units at Beirut area hospitals were already nearing capacity due to COVID-19 patients, and at least one had to turn patients away. Due to the strain on emergency medical services, the Lebanese Red Cross is sending additional resources from other parts of the country to assist in recovery efforts. The local emergency number (140) remains overwhelmed with calls. The military is also assisting in the response efforts.
The Supreme Defense Council has declared a nationwide state of emergency and declared Beirut’s port zone to be a disaster area. Banks nationwide are closed until further notice. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hassan Diab appealed for assistance from foreign countries. Governments in the region, including Iran, Qatar and Israel, as well as the French, U.K. and U.S. governments, have pledged to assist Lebanon in recovery efforts. The French, Jordanian, Qatari and Russian governments are sending emergency resources to Lebanon, including field hospitals and search and rescue personnel.
In addition to the damage throughout the city, the Australian Embassy sustained significant damage, while officials with the Russian Embassy also reported minor damage. Staff at both embassies reported minor injuries from flying glass, but there were no reports of fatalities among diplomatic personnel. The U.S. Embassy warned that the explosion may have released toxic gas and advised individuals to remain indoors as much as possible and to wear masks if available. Local officials cautioned residents to avoid mountainous areas outside the city due to toxic gas concerns.
Analyst Comment: While the long-term impact of the disaster is unknown, it occurred amid a faltering economy and increasing mistrust of political leadership, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of the Port of Beirut — even temporarily — will only add to the country’s economic difficulties, as it is reliant on imports for essential goods, including medicine and foodstuffs. Organizations with assets and personnel in Lebanon should closely monitor the situation and be ready to adapt their safety and security procedures with little advance notice.