Grief Turns to Anger in Beirut

Residents blame 'failed state' for devastating blast
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2020 6:48 AM CDT
Grief Turns to Anger in Beirut
A drone picture shows the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Beirut has been devastated by a massive explosion that killed at least 137 people and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless—and angry residents say the country was broken long before the Tuesday blast. Residents blame corruption and incompetence for the fact that 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was stored at a port facility for six years despite clear warnings of the danger, reports the Washington Post. "People saw firsthand with devastating results what it means to have a failed state,” says Paul Abi Nasr of the Lebanese Association of Industrialists. "It’s not just that the government is corrupt, that the state is weak, that there are weapons outside the hands of the government. We saw these things come together catastrophically." More:

  • Missed warnings. Documents have revealed numerous warnings about the ammonium nitrate, which was unloaded from a ship impounded in 2013, the Guardian reports. Just six months ago, officials who inspected the consignment reportedly warned that if it wasn't moved, it would "blow up all of Beirut." Insiders say several judges and committees failed to take action despite the repeated warnings. Port officials have been placed under house arrest.

  • "Beirut is screaming." Residents are calling for justice—but they say they do not trust the government to deliver it. "Beirut is crying, Beirut is screaming, people are hysterical and people are tired," filmmaker Jude Chehab tells the BBC. Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation, saying it has doubts about the government's ability to "conduct a credible and transparent investigation on its own."
  • Hospitals devastated. More than 5,000 people were injured in the blast—and two hospitals that could have treated them were so badly damaged they have had to close indefinitely, the New York Times reports. "We aren’t expecting any support because there is no state," says Tony Toufic, an engineer at a small hospital near the port, which was almost completely wrecked. The larger St. George Hospital University Medical Center says the blast killed four nurses and 13 patients.
  • Volunteers lead rescue efforts. In hard-hit neighborhoods, volunteers are leading cleanup and rescue efforts. "They have declared war on us, this corrupt state, and it's up to us to clear up the mess. We know they're not going to help. We don't want their help," Roy Rached, a 30-year-old unemployed man, tells Al Jazeera.
  • Country was "already on the brink of the collapse." The AP reports that Lebanon was "already on the brink of the collapse" when the blast hit, with the economy devastated by the pandemic and a financial crisis that wiped out people's savings. With coronavirus cases rising, a new lockdown had been due to come into effect this week. Officials now fear cases will rise sharply, with the many thousands made homeless by the blast now crowding into relatives' homes.
  • Foreign aid incoming. The government estimates that rebuilding will cost more than $12 billion. Numerous countries, including China and Britain, are sending medical teams and other assistance. The BBC reports that on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron became the first foreign leader to visit Lebanon since the catastrophe. He visited the devastated port area and said the disaster is "an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions."
(More Beirut stories.)

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