Lebanon’s capital has been likened to a war zone after 2750 tonnes of a chemical explosive detonated in Beirut, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 4000.
The death toll from the blast, which struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, is expected to rise as search and rescue teams dig through kilometres of rubble.
Nadine Haddad, senior humanitarian policy lead for World Vision Australia, said her biggest concern was for children who might have lost one or both parents in the devastating blast.
She said some injured people were being turned away from hospitals, which are overflowing and can treat only the most gravely injured.
“The medical teams that have been deployed by the government are treating people on the street because the hospitals are at full capacity,” Ms Haddad told The New Daily.
“We anticipate that the suffering of children and the suffering of families will be quite a lot.”
Late on Wednesday afternoon (Australian time) the Lebanese Red Cross confirmed the death toll had risen to 100.
US President Donald Trump contradicted Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Hassan Diab who said the massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse for six years exploded because of a fire.
Mr Trump said American military generals informed him that the explosion seemed to be the result of an attack, “not some kind of manufacturing-explosion type of an event”.
“It was a bomb of some kind,” he said at the White House.
Mr Diab said the cause of the blast was being investigated. He described the storage of the confiscated material, which is used in fertilisers and explosives, as “unacceptable”.
Reports suggest the chemical blast might have been set off by welding work.
Lebanon’s General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim said the “highly explosive material” had been stored near popular shopping and nightlife districts – as well as hospitals.
World Vision Lebanon national director Hans Bederski said the area around Beirut’s port had been “completely destroyed”.
“It looks like a war zone right now,” Mr Bederski told The New Daily.
“The country is already struggling with a terrible financial crisis, with incredibly high unemployment rates aggravated by the situation of COVID-19.”
The Australian embassy in Beirut suffered significant damage and several of its staff suffered minor injuries, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson confirmed.
The embassy was “making urgent inquiries of local authorities to establish the extent of the impact of this incident on Australians”.
At least one Australian has been confirmed dead, with Australia’s government providing consular assistance to their family, the DFAT spokesperson said.
“We offer our sympathy to the government and people of Lebanon, and to all those affected.”
Beirut’s governor Marwan Abboud broke down in tears while speaking to the media.
“It resembles to what happened in Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s what [it] reminds me of. In my life, I haven’t seen destruction on this scale,” Mr Abboud said.
“This is a national catastrophe.”
Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s country director in Lebanon, said the incident could not have occurred at a worse time.
It had affected communities already hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis and suffering severe financial strain, Mr Sakr said.
“Beirut’s main port, now completely damaged, is vital for much of the food, grains and fuel that Lebanon imports, and families will immediately feel the shortage in basic needs as a result of this tragedy,” he said.
Australians who need consular assistance can call (+61) 2 6261 3305 (outside Australia) or 1300 555 135 (inside Australia).