Beirut explosion rocks Lebanon's capital city

By Tara John, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner, Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:59 a.m. ET, August 6, 2020
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10:51 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Former Lebanese leaders call for an international investigation into Beirut blast 

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Ghazi Balkiz and Jomana Karadsheh

Former Lebanese officials on Wednesday called for the formation of an international investigation committee to investigate the blast in Beirut.

"Former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Saad Hariri, and Tammam Salam find it necessary to ask the United Nations or the Arab League to form an international or Arab investigation committee composed of judges and investigators who are professional and impartial to start their duties in uncovering the circumstances and causes of the catastrophe that occurred in Lebanon," according to a joint statement released by Hariri's office.

The call was echoed by international aid and humanitarian organizations.

"Whatever may have caused the explosion, including the possibility of a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely, Amnesty International is calling for an international mechanism to be promptly set up to investigate how this happened," Amnesty International said in a statement.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun stressed on Wednesday that the investigations would be transparent and will "hold those responsible accountable, and impose the harshest penalties on them." 

Lebanese authorities declared Beirut a "disaster city" on Wednesday. They also declared a state of emergency in the city for two weeks.

10:26 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Brazil will make "concrete gesture" to help Lebanon after blast, President Bolsonaro says

From CNN's Marcia Reverdosa in Sao Paulo

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he had called Lebanon's ambassador to Brazil, and offered to help the country following the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday evening.

"Brazil is going to do more than a gesture, something concrete to assist those people who are in a difficult situation because, in addition to being injured, many homes were also affected. So Brazil is in solidarity," Bolsonaro said at a ceremony at the Ministry of Mines and Energy on Wednesday.
"On behalf of the Brazilian government, of course, we express this feeling to the Lebanese people and we will be present in helping those people, we have a few million of them within our country."

Brazil is home to more than 8 million people of Lebanese descent. This is the largest community of Lebanese people outside of Lebanon, according to the Cultural Association Brazil-Lebanon.

Bolsonaro also told reporters that the government is in contact with a representative of the Lebanese community in São Paulo to decide what kind of aid will be sent, and that he could send the country an airplane.

Brazilian casualty: According to Bolsonaro, there have been no reports of serious injuries to Brazilians. However, he reiterated the Foreign Ministry's previous message that the defense attaché's wife in Lebanon had minor injuries and has been hospitalized since Tuesday, but is doing well.

The ministry also reported that the Brazilian embassy, located in the center of Beirut, was hit hard, but had no structural damage.

8:18 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

What we know about the blast in Beirut

From CNN's Jessie Yeung and Luke McGee

A massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday left at least 135 people dead and thousands injured.

Authorities scrambled to treat the wounded, search for survivors, and assess the full extent of the damage on Wednesday.

Here's what we know about the blast so far:

  • The explosion: It took place at 6:07 p.m. local time Tuesday near Beirut's port and central district, close to many highly-populated areas and tourist sites. The explosion tore through the city, flipping cars, shattering glass and causing some homes to crumble. Damaged buildings included the headquarters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and CNN's bureau in downtown Beirut. Homes as far as 10 kilometers (6 miles) away were damaged, according to witnesses.
  • The victims: At least 135 people were killed in the blast and another 5,000 wounded, officials said, and the death toll was expected to rise. Among the dead are the secretary-general of the Kataeb political party, Nazar Najarian, according to NNA. He was in his office when the explosion happened and died after being critically injured. At least one Australian and one American were killed, according to officials from those countries. Two Filipino citizens also died from the explosion, and eight others were injured, said a statement from the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. Eleven other Filipino seafarers are still missing.
  • The cause of the blast: There have been conflicting reports of what caused the blast. The explosion was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port. But on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that about 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material, had been stored at a port warehouse over the past six years "without preventive measures."
  • The aftermath: Lebanon has allocated 100 billion Lebanese pounds — which, according to the government rate, is about $66,335,000 — to deal with the effects of the blast, the Lebanese Presidency Twitter account said Wednesday. Aid groups like UNICEF and the Red Cross have teams on the ground assisting authorities, and have put out urgent open calls for blood donations.
  • How to help: Several charities are on the ground providing medical care, shelter, supplies and other services to help the city recover and rebuild. You can help raise funds for supplies and assistance by visiting here.

5:20 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

4 Bangladeshi nationals killed in blast

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel

Four Bangladeshi nationals were killed and nearly 100 others were injured in the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday, the country's state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported, citing senior officials at its embassy in Lebanon.  

Among the injured were 21 members of the Bangladesh Navy, who were on duty at the port as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, BSS said, adding that one of the navy personnel is in critical condition. 

3:49 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Paris' Eiffel tower will go dark to honor Beirut victims

From CNN's Milena Veselinovic

France's Eiffel Tower will go dark at midnight local time tonight to honor the victims of the Beirut explosion, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted. 

The city of Paris will provide an emergency aid of 100,000 euros — which is about $118,861 — to Beirut, Hidalgo said.

3:21 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

The Beirut explosion created a 405-foot-wide crater

From CNN's Daniel Wolfe

This satellite image, obtained by CNN from Planet Labs Inc., shows a massive crater at the site of Tuesday's explosion in Beirut's port.
This satellite image, obtained by CNN from Planet Labs Inc., shows a massive crater at the site of Tuesday's explosion in Beirut's port. Planet Labs, Inc.

The diameter of the Beirut crater created by Tuesday's explosion appears to be roughly 124 meters — or about 405 feet, according to a CNN analysis of a Planet Labs, Inc. satellite image.

That distance means the crater is well over a football field in length.

CNN utilized geospatial software to measure the satellite imagery of the explosion site. The assessment is accurate within 10 meters.

2:50 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

US defense secretary on Beirut: "Most believe that it was an accident"

From CNN's Michael Conte

Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US is “still getting information on what happened” in regard to the explosion in Beirut, and that “most believe that it was an accident, as reported.”

US defense officials have told CNN there is no indication at the moment that the blast was an attack, despite President Trump calling it as such yesterday.

Esper’s remarks came as part of a discussion with the annual Aspen Security Forum, where he said he spoke about the blast with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this morning.

“We’re reaching out to the Lebanese government, have reached out. We’re positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can, humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it, to assist the people of Lebanon,” he said.

2:42 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

At least 1 American killed and several injured in blast

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The site of the explosion is seen from a damaged apartment building in Beirut on August 5.
The site of the explosion is seen from a damaged apartment building in Beirut on August 5. Hussein Malla/AP

The US State Department is “aware of at least one US citizen killed, and several more injured, by the explosion” in Beirut, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

“All US Chief of Mission personnel in Beirut are safe and accounted for and US Embassy Beirut is open,” the spokesperson said.

“We offer our sincerest condolences to their loved ones and are working to provide the affected US citizens and their families all possible consular assistance,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with local authorities to determine if any additional US citizens were affected. Out of respect for the families at this difficult time, we have no further comment.”

The spokesperson said they are urging “US citizens in the affected areas who are safe to contact their loved ones directly and/or update their status on social media.”

“If you are in the affected area and need immediate emergency services, please contact local authorities. We urge US citizens to avoid the affected areas / shelter in place and follow the directions of local authorities,” they said.

2:14 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

This Beirut hospital may run out of medical supplies soon

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Hospitals in Beirut are overwhelmed with casualties, with four of its hospitals out of service due to damage by the explosion. Even under this already high level of strain, Firass Abiad, CEO of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, says the situation will escalate and the death toll will climb further.

“I think that it's very likely that those numbers will increase. What we are hearing today from some of the EMS services that are sweeping buildings, that are in the vicinity of the blasts, is that they are finding bodies,” he said.

“I’m not sure we will see more survivors, but I think we'll definitely see more bodies coming in.”

The crisis comes to the city and its hospitals amid already existing challenges.

Rafik Hariri University Hospital was already running low on its medical supplies due to the financial crisis in Lebanon when Covid-19 hit, Abiad said. And in this backdrop of a surge in cases during a second wave, came the casualties from Tuesday’s explosion, completely overwhelming the hospital. Now, it’s about to run out of supplies.

“We are very close. I think, you know, when this happened yesterday, we threw everything that we had in our emergency room. We were trying to treat as much as we can. But with all honesty, if help does not arrive soon, we will be empty-handed very shortly,” he said.

The financial crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and the explosion has put his team “in the middle of a perfect storm,” he added.

“I'm a surgeon who worked through the civil war and we've seen financial hardships before. We've seen blast injuries before. We haven't seen corona before but I think that all of these together… we do not seem to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The way the staff at the hospital has reacted to the crisis has been “silver lining,” Abiad said.

“When this happened, part of my staff were finishing their shift and going home. And they just came back,” he said. “They were filled with empathy toward the patients and kindness. And I think the only hope I see with all of this is the ability of the human spirit to endure these hardships.”

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