0417 GMT September 23, 2020
Iran sent food supplies and medical aid to Lebanon as senior Iranian officials voiced readiness to provide all sorts of humanitarian assistance to Beirut, which is reeling from a massive explosion that killed over 100 people and injured more than 4,000 on Tuesday.
Iran’s Red Crescent Society announced on Wednesday that 95 tons of food and medicine, along with a 37-member medical team, were sent to Beirut on two cargo planes.
IRCS chief Karim Hemmati said the team includes specialists and surgeons, orthopedists and anesthesiologists.
IRCS spokesman Mohammad Nasiri said the Iranian team will also set up a Rapid Deployment Hospital (RHD) in Beirut.
The first consignment of Iranian aid supplies arrived in Beirut hours after the tragedy on Tuesday.
President Hassan Rouhani sent a message to his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Aoun, voicing deep grief over the tragic incident.
“On behalf of the nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I express sympathy with the bereaved families and offer heartfelt condolences to His Excellency and the people of the friendly and brotherly country of Lebanon,” he said.
“In line with its humanitarian measures, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran declares its readiness to send medical and pharmaceutical aid and offer treatment to the injured or whatever medical assistance the country might need,” he added, expressing hope for the swift recovery of the wounded.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a phone conversation with his Lebanese counterpart, Charbel Wehbe.
Iran, Zarif noted, stands by the Lebanese nation and government at all levels and is ready to provide assistance to the country so it can meet its urgent infrastructural and humanitarian needs.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps also expressed readiness to help the Lebanese government and people.
Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut on Wednesday after the cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighborhoods, plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis.
The blast, which appeared to have been caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, left unsecured in a warehouse, was felt as far away as Cyprus, some 150 miles (240 kilometers) to the northwest.
Marwan Abboud, the governor of Beirut, described the disaster as “an apocalyptic situation” he estimated might have made 300,000 people temporarily homeless and would cost the country in excess of $3 billion.
The scale of the destruction was such that the Lebanese capital resembled the scene of an earthquake, with thousands of people left homeless and thousands more cramming into overwhelmed hospitals for treatment.
The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea where rescue teams tried to recover bodies. Many of those killed were port and custom employees and people working in the area or driving through during the Tuesday evening rush hour.
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, said on Wednesday that more than 100 deaths had been confirmed. He also said around 4,000 were injured, prompting fears that the death toll could rise significantly.
The blast was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown.
Facades of central Beirut buildings were ripped off, furniture was sucked into streets, and roads were strewn with glass and debris. Cars near the port were flipped over.
Initial investigations indicated years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material.
The head of Beirut port and the head of customs both said on Wednesday that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the dangerous material to be removed, but no action was taken.
Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem said the material had been put in a warehouse on a court order, adding that they knew then the material was dangerous but “not to this degree”.
Many people were watching and filming with their phones after an earlier and smaller explosion was heard in the port and ignited a fire.
The resulting footage, which was widely shared on social media, shows a ball of fire and smoke rising above Beirut and a white shockwave engulfing everything around it.
The mushroom-shaped explosion – which seismologists said was logged as the equivalent of a 3.3 magnitude quake – and the scope of the damage drew nuclear analogies in many people's accounts of the tragedy.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab described the circumstances at the port that led to the explosion as “unacceptable” and vowed to investigate.
“Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,” he said.
Messages of support poured in from around the world for Lebanon, whose economy was already on its knees after it defaulted on sovereign debt earlier this year.
A crippling devaluation has sent poverty levels soaring to an estimated 50 percent of the population and for a country so heavily reliant on imports, the obliteration of the main port signaled more hardship ahead.
The security forces sealed off a huge area around the blast site, searching for bodies and survivors under the rubble of leveled buildings while rescue boats scoured the waters off the coast.
Hospitals that had already been stretched to the brink by a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days were pushed to new limits by the influx of wounded and forced to turn many away.
Saint-Georges Hospital was badly damaged by the explosion and lost several members of its staff.
The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues because hospitals were overwhelmed, Kettani said.
AFP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.