2 Pinoys killed in Beirut explosions

Beirut explosions

TWO Filipinos were killed, eight were injured and 12 Filipino crew members of a cruise ship were reported missing when powerful twin explosions rocked the Port of Beirut on Tuesday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. expressed condolences to the Lebanese people following the twin explosion  that killed about 100 people and injured some 4,000 others.

Locsin said he hopes to extend material help as "some gesture of solidarity."

"Our hearts go out to the Lebanese people. And I hope material and medical help as well," Locsin said on Twitter.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Menez said  reports from the Philippine Embassy in Beirut said the Filipinos were all in their employers homes during the explosion.

The Filipino seamen on the other hand were crew members of the Bahamas-flagged MV Orient Queen, a cruise ship docked at the Port after a 21-day voyage from port King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia.

Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi, who was quoted in news reports said it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock.

The ammonium nitrate was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014 and had been stored in the warehouse since then.

The Philippine Embassy is in touch with the Filipino community in Lebanon to assess the situation and provide assistance to any affected Filipinos.

There are about 33,000 Filipinos in Lebanon, 75 percent of whom are in the Greater Beirut area, the DFA said.

Filipinos requesting  assistance may reach the Philippine Embassy  through the following:

Telephones  - +961 3859430, +961  81334836, +961 71474416, +961  70681060 and +961 70858086, E-mail - beirutpe@gmail.com and Facebook - Philippine Embassy in Lebanon.

The two enormous explosions spread panic and chaos across the Lebanese capital.

The second blast sent an enormous orange fireball into the sky, immediately followed by a tornado-like shockwave that flattened the port and swept the city, shattering windows kilometers (miles) away.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that 2,750 tons of the agricultural fertiliser ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a portside warehouse had blown up, sparking "a disaster in every sense of the word".

Bloodied and dazed wounded people stumbled among the debris, glass shards and burning buildings in central Beirut as the health ministry reported 73 dead and 3,700 injured across wide parts of the country's biggest city.

"What happened today will not pass without accountability," said Diab. "Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price."

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim earlier said the "highly explosive material" had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes walk from Beirut's shopping and nightlife districts.

The blasts were so massive they shook the entire city and could be heard throughout the small country, and as far away as Nicosia on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 240 kilometers (150 miles) away.

A soldier at the port, where relatives of the missing scrambled for news of their loved ones, told AFP: "It's a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead."

"It was like an atomic bomb," said Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-70s who has lived near the port for decades.

"I've experienced everything, but nothing like this before," even during the country's 1975-1990 civil war, she said.

"All the buildings around here have collapsed."

Her 91-year-old uncle, who lived in the same building, was wounded in the blast and later died.

AFP correspondents across the city saw shop and apartment windows blown out and streets covered with broken glass.

Photos posted online even showed damage to the inside of Beirut airport's terminal, some nine kilometres from the explosion.

Hospitals already struggling with the country's coronavirus outbreak were overwhelmed by the influx of wounded people and the country's Red Cross called for urgent blood donations. 

'We saw the mushroom'

As the national defence council declared Beirut a disaster zone, Diab appealed to Lebanon's allies to "stand by" the country and "help us treat these deep wounds".

Condolences poured in from across the world with Gulf nations, the United States and even Lebanon's arch foe Israel offering to send aid.

AFP video footage showed areas of near-complete devastation, with cars flipped onto their roofs like children's toys, warehouses flattened and survivors drenched from head to toe in their own blood.

"We heard an explosion, then we saw the mushroom," said a Beirut resident who witnessed the second deafening explosion from her balcony in the city's Mansourieh district.

"The force of the blast threw us backwards into the apartment."

An AFP correspondent at the scene minutes after said every shop in the Hamra commercial district had sustained damage, with entire storefronts destroyed and many cars wrecked.

A huge blaze sent up black smoke from the port area, as helicopters dumped water on burning buildings.

A ship moored off the port was on fire, and the blasts also damaged a vessel deployed with United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL and injured some of its personnel.

'Like an earthquake'

Hundreds immediately shared their shock and grief on social media.

"Buildings are shaking," tweeted one resident, while another wrote: "An enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away."

Online footage from a Lebanese newspaper office showed blown out windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior panelling.

The explosions hit a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades which has left nearly half of the population in poverty, as well as from the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon's economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting, businesses closing en masse and poverty soaring at the same alarming rate as unemployment.

Charity Save the Children said "the incident could not have occurred at a worse time".

The explosions came three days before a UN tribunal's verdict on the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, who was killed in a huge 2005 truck bomb attack.

Four alleged members of the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah are on trial in absentia at the court in the Netherlands over the huge Beirut bombing that killed Sunni billionaire Hariri and 21 other people.

A woman in the city centre Tuesday told AFP the blast "felt like an earthquake" and "bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005". With AFP