Beirut officials under house arrest as rescue efforts continue

Beirut’s port after Tuesday’s massive explosion Photograph: Getty Images
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Daily US Times: Lebanon’s government confirmed that a number of Beirut port officials are being placed under house arrest pending an investigation into Tuesday’s huge explosion in the capital city.

The blast injured more than 4,000 people and killed at least 135 people and. A two-week state of emergency has begun in the country.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that was stored unsafely in a warehouse.

Customs chief Badri Daher said his agency called for the chemical to be removed, but “this did not happen”.

He said: “We leave it to the experts to determine the reasons.”

Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertiliser in agriculture and as an explosive.

President Aoun said in an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday: “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city”.

Specialists at the University of Sheffield in the UK estimate that the explosion had about one tenth of the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War Two and was “unquestionably one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history”.

What triggered the explosion?

It has been reported that the ammonium nitrate had been in a warehouse in Beirut port for six years after it was unloaded from a ship impounded in 2013.

The head of the customs authority and head of Beirut port both told local media that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on to ensure port safety.

Hassan Koraytem, Port General Manager, told OTV that it had been their knowledge that the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree”.

The Supreme Defence Council of Lebanon has vowed that those found responsible will face the “maximum punishment” possible.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said: “I think it is incompetence and really bad management and there are a lot of responsibilities from management and probably previous governments. We do not intend after such an explosion to stay silent on who is responsible for what.”

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said the house arrest would apply for all port officials “who have handled the affairs of storing [the] ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork” since June 2014.

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