BEIRUT (Dispatches) -- Emergency medical aid and pop-up field hospitals were dispatched to Lebanon Wednesday along with rescue experts and tracking dogs, as the world reached out to the victims of the explosion that devastated Beirut.
The blast centered on the city’s port caused massive destruction and killed more than 100 people, heaping misery on a country already in crisis.
Regional states were among the first to respond, with Qatar and Iran announcing they were sending mobile hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
A Qatari air force plane with a cargo of hundreds of collapsible beds, generators and burn sheets touched down in Beirut in the first of a convoy of flights to the Mediterranean country.
Iran’s Red Crescent Society (IRCS) spokesman Muhammad Nasiri announced that 2,000 food packages, weighing nine tonnes, were sent along with medicine and medical equipment.
The first consignment of Iranian aid supplies arrived in Beirut hours after the tragedy on Tuesday. Two more shipments were expected for delivery later on Wednesday.
Nasiri said a 22-member medical team, including general practitioners, orthopedists, anesthesiologists, operating room specialists, pediatricians, neurologists, nurses and field hospital experts, would be dispatched later Wednesday. The Iranian team will set up a mobile hospital in Beirut, he added.
Medical supplies from Kuwait also arrived, as the Lebanese Red Cross said that more than 4,000 people were being treated for injuries after the explosion, which sent glass shards and debris flying.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on "friendly countries” to support a nation already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as the impact of the coronavirus.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a message to his Lebanese counterpart that Tehran was "ready to offer medical and medicinal aid and help treat the injured”.
Rouhani also expressed hope the cause of the deadly blast would be uncovered and calm restored to Beirut as soon as possible.
The Lebanese Red Cross said Wednesday that the blast killed over 100 people and injured more than 4,000, according to the latest toll.
Close allies and traditional adversaries of Lebanon alike sent their condolences, with Iran and Saudi Arabia both sending messages of support.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the great and resilient people of Lebanon,” Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif tweeted. Saudi Arabia said it was following the situation with "great concern”.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres expressed his "deepest condolences... following the horrific explosions in Beirut,” which he said had also injured some UN personnel.
President Donald Trump said "it looks like a terrible attack” and that U.S. generals had told him that the powerful explosions appeared to have been caused by a "bomb of some kind,” without offering evidence.
However, the explosion appeared to have been sparked by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse.
Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah resistance movement said all of the country’s political powers must to overcome the "painful catastrophe” unite after the massive explosion.
"This grievous disaster, along with its unprecedented repercussions and damage it had caused on several levels, requires a national stand by all Lebanese people and powers in a bid to overcome this ordeal,” it said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wrote to his Lebanese counterpart Aoun that "on behalf of the Syrian Arab people, we extend our sincere condolences to you and the Lebanese people”.
President Aoun said a state of emergency should be declared in Beirut for two weeks, and called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Aoun, in remarks published on the Presidency Twitter account, said it was "unacceptable” that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored in a warehouse for six years without safety measures and vowed that those responsible would face the "harshest punishments”.
"What happened today will not pass without accountability,” Prime Minister Diab said. "Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price.”
The explosion was the most powerful ever to hit Beirut, leaving the port district a wreck of mangled masonry and disabling the main entry port for imports to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.
Lebanese musician Jad Choueiri said the scenes near his home in the Achrafieh neighborhood "looked like the apocalypse.”
More than 300,000 people have been left homeless with the damage of the blast estimated to cost over $3 billion.
Smoke still rose Wednesday from the port, where a towering building of silos was half destroyed, spilling out grain. Hangars around it were completely toppled.
The economy minister said Lebanon’s main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in the blast, leaving the nation with less than a month’s reserves of the grain but enough flour to avoid a crisis.
Raoul Nehme said Lebanon needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.
"There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. "We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term.”
The economy was already in meltdown before the blast, slowing grain imports as the nation struggled to find hard currency for purchases.
Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi called on the international community to take action to help lift U.S. sanctions against Lebanon to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
The blast knocked out a crater some 200 meters (yards) across that filled with seawater — it was as if the sea had taken a bite out of the port, swallowing buildings with it.
Much of downtown was littered with damaged vehicles and debris that had rained down from the shattered facades of buildings.
Initial investigations indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion, an official source familiar with the findings said.
"It is negligence,” the official source told Reuters, adding that the issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and "nothing was done” to order the material be removed or disposed of,
The source said a fire had started at port warehouse 9 on Tuesday and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the material six months ago warned it could "blow up all of Beirut” if not removed.
Beirut port’s general manager said that the facility had warehoused highly-explosive material six years ago based on a court order, local broadcaster OTV reported.
The broadcaster quoted Hassan Koraytem as telling it that the customs department and state security had asked authorities for the material to be exported or removed, but that "nothing happened”.