BEIRUT — International rescue workers and aid began arriving in the Lebanese capital Thursday as a shocked city took in the extent of its losses in twin explosions this week.
At least 135 people were killed Tuesday as blasts engulfed central Beirut, wounding more than 4,000 and leaving scores of people unaccounted for as shock waves gutted the heart of the city. The immediate cause appeared to be an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer and bombmaking ingredient, stored in a warehouse at the port for years despite repeated warnings over the risk it posed.
The losses may total up to $5 billion, Beirut governor Marwan Abboud told reporters, a sum that Lebanon, already in the throes of financial disaster, is ill-equipped to absorb.
The NNA state news agency said Thursday that Turkey had sent a plane filled with equipment to help the wounded and find the missing. France and a host of other nations had already sent, or were sending, planeloads of specialists, rescue workers and supplies. France has a close relationship with its former protectorate, and French President Emmanuel Macron is set to arrive in Beirut on Thursday.
Tuesday’s explosions left as many as 300,000 people homeless in a city of 2.2 million people, Abboud said. Lebanon’s economy had already imploded in the months before the blasts, pushing hundreds of thousands of Lebanese toward or deeper below the poverty line.
The financial collapse has been blamed on decades of mismanagement and corruption. As Beirut’s mood turned from shell shock to anger after Tuesday’s blasts, the disaster seemed to encapsulate those same hallmarks: a weak state, inept government, corrupt officials and, many said, the existence of a parallel state run by the powerful Hezbollah movement, as well as other Lebanese factions that used the port for smuggling operations.
Lebanon’s cabinet said Wednesday that it had ordered an unspecified number of Beirut port officials to be placed under house arrest pending the investigation.