THIS was the scene of devastation in Beirut yesterday after a city-wide blast was compared to a nuclear bomb.
A two-week state of emergency has been declared after at least 135 people died and around 5,000 others were injured when a dockside warehouse fire ignited 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate.
The hunt was under way for survivors trapped in the wreckage of more than 100,000 buildings in Lebanon’s capital yesterday as the EU prepared to dispatch hundreds of rescue workers and Britain promised support.
‘Firefighters came to fight the fire, and then they vanished,’ said Beirut’s governor Marwan Abboud. ‘We don’t know where they are.
‘This reminds me of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have never seen destruction on this scale in my entire life.’
Officials said a welder repairing damage to a warehouse is thought to have started Tuesday’s fire that consumed a load of fireworks before spreading to the chemical depot. There is growing concern about food supplies after damage to grain silos that hold 85 per cent of the country’s wheat.
The ammonium — used in fertilisers and explosives — arrived on a Russian ship that was impounded after arriving in the city in 2013.
Badri Daher, head of Lebanon’s customs agency, said courts had repeatedly rejected attempts to have the chemical removed.
‘We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen,’ he said. ‘We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why.’
Lebanon’s PM Hassan Diab put all port officials under house arrest. He said the country was ‘witnessing a real catastrophe’, adding: ‘I promise you this will not pass without accountability.’
US president Donald Trump told reporters his military staff ‘seem to think it was an attack’ but this was later played down by defence officials.
The blast brought a mushroom cloud and a shockwave that caused about £2.3billion damage to a city reeling from Covid-19 and an economic crisis.
Estimated at three kilotons — a quarter of the strength of the Hiroshima bomb — it was felt 150 miles away in Cyprus and left a 500ft crater visible from space.
Language teacher Richard Gordon-Smith, who was 12 miles away, said it felt like ‘being slapped in the face’ and patients were being treated in the street because ‘all of the hospitals have been wrecked’.
French president Emmanuel Macron will visit today and Boris Johnson said Britain was ‘ready to provide support in any way we can’. Defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood suggested sending the hospital ship RFA Argus.