A large fire has erupted at Beirut port, sending a huge column of smoke over the Lebanese capital just weeks after a massive blast devastated the port and surrounding residential area.
The blaze started in the shattered duty free zone of the port, prompting some residents to flee the city that is still traumatised by the explosion last month, which began after a fire erupted at the port.
“For sure we were scared, it’s only been a month since the explosion that destroyed Beirut. We saw the same thing happening again,” 53-year-old Andre Muarbes said as some districts of the capital were shrouded by a cloud of black smoke.
The army said a store of oil and tyres had burst into flames, although it said the cause was not immediately clear.
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Television footage showed an army helicopter dropping water on the fire, as firefighters battled the blaze on the ground.
The head of civil defence told Lebanon’s AlJadeed television it was not certain what materials were burning while urging the public to stay calm, saying the fire was limited to one place.
There were no immediate reports of injuries but the blaze strained nerves already on edge in a country grappling with a deep economic crisis that has posed the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The August 4 blast killed about 190 people and injured 6000.
Majed Hassanein, 49, was taking his wife and two children out of the city by car.
“I am forced to get them out of Beirut from the smoke and the fire that is happening at the port again,” he said.
His son, he said, was still suffering shock from the blast that ruined a swathe of capital near the port, leaving about 300,000 people without inhabitable homes and shattering windows across the city.
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said there was no fear of another explosion as a result of Thursday’s fire and there were no injuries, although he said there were some people suffering from shortness of breath.
The public prosecutor ordered an immediate investigation into the blaze.
Many Lebanese are frustrated that they have not been told about any initial findings from an investigation into the port blast, more than a month after it ripped through Beirut.
Carmen Geha, an activist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut, said the fire was further proof of mismanagement by a ruling elite who have dragged the country into crisis after years of corruption and poor governance.
“It’s a gross crime, gross negligence and gross arrogance,” she said.
“You can’t trust them to manage anything.”
Firefighters were shown in television footage dousing the port fire surrounded by mangled remains of warehouses destroyed in last month’s explosion, which was caused by a store of ammonium nitrate that had been kept in poor condition at the port for years.