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Lebanon blast: Two die, 8 injured

Gabbie Parlade

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Beirut blast A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of a massive explosion at the port of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, on 4 August 2020. STR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Two Filipinos died in the massive explosion that rocked the port area of Beirut on Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also confirmed eight other Filipinos were injured and 12 are still missing — mostly seafarers and household staff — in the blast reportedly caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.

Ammonium nitrate can be both a fertilizer and an explosives ingredient.

At least 100 casualties were initially reported while more than 4,000 were hurt.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared a two-week state of emergency and an official mourning period of three days beginning Wednesday.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Arriola said seven sustained minor injuries while one who was reported to be in critical condition is now stable.

Arriola said most of the missing Filipinos were on a ship docked 400 meters from the port. They were forced to jump off the vessel.

“Because of the shockwave, they decided to jump from the ship because they felt the ship was going to sink,” Arriola said. “We are still trying to find out if they survived, if they were able to swim to the shore.”

The DFA is currently trying to mount flights to bring the remains home this weekend.

The Philippine Embassy in Lebanon was ordered to provide slots for repatriation for those who want to return home due to the incident.

Based on DFA data, Arriola said there are about 230 Filipinos with pending requests to return home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

An estimated 33,000 Filipinos are in Lebanon, about 75 percent of them based in Beirut.

Malacañang said it “stands in solidarity” with the people of Lebanon.

The Philippines’ thoughts and prayers are with the Lebanese people, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque, even as he conveyed the government’s condolences to the families of the two casualties.

“We are one with the families and friends of Filipinos who passed or were injured during the event,” Roque said in a statement.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs has been instructed to assist all Filipinos affected by the explosions through the Philippine Embassy in Beirut.”

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) likewise expressed its “utmost sympathies.”

“We assure everyone that our government is ensuring the safety of our Filipino workers there through the Philippine Embassy in Beirut and that concerned government agencies are providing the assistance their families need,” PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Lebanon as the country strives to rebuild from the aftermath of the blast amidst these trying times,” he added.

Arriola said the DFA is keeping in touch with the embassy and is gathering updates from the Filipino communities.

“Everything is still very fluid because it has not been 24 hours yet. We are doing the best we can to assist our nationals,” Arriola said.

The DFA likewise advised Filipinos seeking assistance to call the Philippine Embassy or through Facebook and email. They are also welcome to stay at the embassy premises if needed.

BBC reported that the blast was felt 240 kilometers away on the island of Cyprus. People thought it was an earthquake.

George Kettani, the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, described it as a huge catastrophe” and “there are victims and casualties everywhere.”

Experts said the confined space may have caused the explosion, made worse by possible contamination with items such as fuel.

Those responsible for the explosion “will not pass without accountability” and “those responsible will pay for what happened” with the “maximum punishment” possible, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council vowed.

At a time when Lebanon, like several countries around the globe, is struggling with its economy due to the coronavirus crisis, it now has to deal with the destruction of its food and grain storage in the port area. Destroyed buildings and houses also left many homeless.

Aoun said the government will release 100 billion lira (£50.5 million or $66 million) of emergency funds.

with FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD
@tribunephl_gabs

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