BEIRUT: Investigators probing the deadly blast that ripped across Beirut focused yesterday on possible negligence in the storage of tonnes of a highly explosive fertiliser in a waterfront warehouse, while the government ordered the house arrest of several port officials.
International aid flights began to arrive as Lebanon’s leaders struggled to deal with the widespread damage and shocking aftermath of Tuesday’s blast, which killed 135 people and injured about 5,000 others.
Public anger mounted against the ruling elite that is being blamed for the chronic mismanagement and carelessness that led to the disaster.
The investigation is focusing on how 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it.
Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15bn, Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless. Hospitals were overwhelmed by the injured.
A senior US Defence Department official and member of the US intelligence community said there were no indications the explosion was the result of an attack by either a nation state or proxy forces.
Fuelling speculation that negligence was to blame for the accident, an official letter circulating online showed the head of the customs department had warned repeatedly over the years that the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in the port was a danger and had asked judicial officials for a ruling on a way to remove it.