BEIRUT – Those responsible for the oversight of the ammonium nitrate believed to have sparked the deadly blast at a Beirut port should be placed under house arrest, the Lebanese Cabinet said Wednesday.
The most recent toll from the accident stands at 135 dead and about 5,000 others wounded, Lebanese broadcaster MTV quoted Health Minister Hamad Hassan as saying. Searches were ongoing for missing people.
“The Supreme Military Authority is requested to impose house arrest on all those who have run the affairs of storing, guarding or checking the files of the ammonium nitrate since June 2014 until the explosion day,” Lebanese Information Minister Manal Abdul Samad said after a Cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday the blast was due to about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse in Beirut’s port for the last six years without safety measures.
The chemical is usually used as fertilizer for agriculture, but can also be used as a mining explosive.
Diab vowed to punish the people responsible for the blasts.
The Cabinet also declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut. The military authority will be responsible for maintaining security, Abdul Samad added.
She said an administrative investigation committee has been tasked with probing the causes of the disaster and will submit a report on the result to the Cabinet within five days.
There are many people still trapped under the rubble,” a civil defense official told dpa.
Around 100 United Nations staff and dependents were injured in Tuesday’s explosion, while two relatives of U.N. employees were killed, according to a U.N. spokesperson.
“They’re getting treatment and we hope that they will be alright,” Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday.
Lebanon woke up to scenes of overwhelming destruction at Beirut’s port and surrounding areas, with hospitals damaged and straining to treat patients.
Ruined cars lined the main highway, apartment buildings were surrounded by shattered glass, and some people slept overnight without windows.
Marwan Abboud, Beirut’s governor, said that between 200,000 and 250,000 people have become homeless due to Tuesday’s explosion. Authorities are working on providing them with food, water and shelter.
The government is still investigating the cause of the explosion, but the internal security chief said the area was housing highly explosive materials.
Beirut’s governor had revealed that a security report from 2014 warned of the possibility of an explosion in Lebanon’s capital as highly explosive materials had not been stored safely.
“We lost 10 members of the Beirut Fire Brigade and damages range between $3 (billion) and $5 billion and maybe more,” Abboud said.
Beirut’s port is its main source of imported foodstuffs. Among other things, grain silos at the port were destroyed.
Officials at the Ministry of Economy and Trade reassured members of the Union of Bakeries in a meeting that the needed amounts of wheat are available. Stored quantities are sufficient for more than a month, officials said according to the official news agency.
Moreover, four ships waiting to unload 25,000 tons of wheat will be redirected to the northern Tripoli port as well as Sidon port, south of Beirut.
The explosion takes place as Lebanon is struggling through its worst economic crisis since the country’s 1975-90 civil war ended.
The Cabinet is conducting an emergency meeting on Wednesday after Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council declared Beirut a disaster area and recommended a two-week state of emergency.