BY: KARMA ALLEN, ABC News
(BEIRUT, Lebanon) — In the wake of the massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 and injured around 5,000, officials in the country have been calling for help from the international community to recover from the tragedy, which could also leave some 300,000 homeless, officials said.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud called the Aug. 4 explosion “a national catastrophe” in a tearful interview early Thursday, pleading for assistance. He said the country will need to rely heavily on donations and foreign aid to rebuild. French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to offer support as the country reels from the explosion and at least 100 remain missing.
The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast. Footage from the scene appears to show a cloud of smoke forming before the blast, then a fire, before the massive explosion that carried a mushroom cloud well over the city.
“I have never seen this amount of destruction on this scale. This is a national catastrophe. This is a disaster for Lebanon. We don’t know how we will recover. We don’t know,” Abboud told Sky News. “We could barely survive before and now we have this. We have to be strong.”
He urged residents to hold themselves together and “be brave” as crowds took to the streets with brooms, garbage bins and other tools to help rid the city of the tons of glass, shrapnel and debris left behind by the blast.
The explosion leveled homes and buildings and was captured on gut-wrenching video. Humanitarian officials said the incident could have a crippling effect on the city’s already struggling economy, citing the ongoing financial crisis, political tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic there.
“The country’s weak health system and current political crisis have left families with no means to protect themselves against a pandemic,” a spokesperson for Save the Children said, pleading for the public to help with donations. “With hospitals completely overwhelmed, our teams stand ready to support relief efforts wherever possible. Your urgent support is needed today.”
Hospitals were already struggling to keep with demand due to the virus, but now they’re battling with a sudden influx of patients from the blast on top of that, humanitarian officials said.
Lebanon is also home to the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita in the world with refugees now accounting for about 30% of the country’s population, according to Mercy Corps, which is now taking up donations for aid.
More than a dozen Lebanese charities have begun receiving donations to help with disaster relief as well. Volunteers with the Lebanese Red Cross were on the scene helping with victims Thursday along with the Lebanese Food Bank, which are both taking donations.
One of the fastest ways to help is to donate to international organizations with existing infrastructures in Lebanon, like Humanity & Inclusion, UNICEF and Save the Children, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors.
Humanity & Inclusion, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines, said it has been doing humanitarian work in Lebanon since 1992. Most recently, it was providing aid to Syrian refugees, especially the elderly and those with disabilities and/or serious illnesses.
“Our 100-person team in Lebanon, including physical therapists, psycho-social, and livelihood experts, are leading this critical response. Post-surgical physical therapy, in particular, will be a vital component of our actions,” Humanity & Inclusion said in a statement on its website. “Your gift, whatever the amount, can help provide desperately-needed care.”
Similarly, UNICEF’s Lebanon arm said it’s been working to mobilize youth to help clean up those neighborhoods with the most damage. The organization is also working with authorities on the ground to respond to the needs of health and other front-line workers. The organization said some staff members had lost loved ones in the explosion.
“Yesterday’s catastrophe in Beirut adds to what has already been a terrible crisis for the people of Lebanon compounded by an economic collapse and a surge in COVID-19 cases,” UNICEF said in a statement. “Our hearts are with children and families who have been impacted, especially those who lost their loved ones. We wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”
The potential humanitarian implications of the explosion are still unclear, but Beriut’s governor, Abboud, said that as many as 300,000 people could be left “without homes,” according to local media reports. He estimated that it could cost the country between $3 billion and $5 billion, noting that engineers had yet to conduct an official assessment.
Countries around the world have also pledged support, with France, Germany, Canada, Bangladesh, Israel, Russia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Iran offering humanitarian aid, rescue teams, supplies and other resources.
Officials with the World Heath Organization said the organization delivered 20 tons of supplies since the explosion.
Separately, the U.S. government said it plans to send three large military transport plane shipments of food, water and medical supplies, according to the Department of Defense.
America is also sending support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which said it would “continue to monitor the impact of the explosion in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy and USAID’s Mission in Beirut, Lebanese authorities, and our humanitarian partners on the ground.” That includes support for local university hospitals.
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