Search teams from around the world pulled four more bodies from the rubble of Tuesday’s gigantic explosion in the port area of Beirut, bringing the death toll to nearly 150, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Thousands more are injured and hundreds of thousands are without adequate shelter as a result of the explosion. The government of Lebanon had initially given the count of homeless people as 300,000 but it appears many of these people did in in fact return to their homes, although they had been damaged.
Beirut resident Eli Zakari, his face showing scars from the blast, was interviewed by CNN after the blast, recounting his impressions of the aftermath of the explosion. “It was a massacre. I saw people screaming, I saw people covered in blood. Homes destroyed, broken glass in the streets. If you had told me it had been a tsunami, or Hiroshima… I had no idea. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening.”
With the damage currently pegged at $10 to $15 billion, anger has erupted all around the city, with sixteen port employees Now taken into custody for questioning. The blame, however, has spread to all levels of government, including those at the top, accused by many members of the public of incompetence and corruption.
The AP reported that the blast was caused by the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port after a tanker carrying the highly explosive fertilizer ingredient was seized by the city’s port authorities. The owner of the ship then vanished and officials have dithered ever since that time on how to deal with the matter.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the port city on Thursday to offer his country’s support in the aftermath of the catastrophe. French teams have also deployed to the site.
The AP quotes Col. Vincent Tissier, head of the French team, as saying “Our experience shows that we can find people alive until up to 72, 75 or 80 hours after an explosion or an earthquake, so for now we are still in time and we cling on to this hope.”
Later, French President Macron visited with Beirut residents on the streets of the city. A crowd gathered, chanting slogans such as “You are sitting with warlords. They have been manipulating us for the past year.”
Assuring the citizens that he was there to help them, Macron even stopped to give a warm hug to a woman who was still angry and distraught from the events of Tuesday. The crowd that had gathered around the pair then cheered their approval of the caring gesture on the part of the French president.
He repeatedly pledged that he would speak to Lebanon’s leadership and he gave the citizens his word that he would do all he could to root out any corruption in the disbursal of aid monies to the country.