Beirut port officials under house arrest as death toll rises to 135

Blast leaves 300,000 homeless, destroys 85% of grain stocks


BEIRUT — Lebanon has imposed a two-week emergency in Beirut as the death toll from Tuesday's massive blast has risen to 135 with more than 5,000 wounded.

The blast has also left nearly 300,000 homeless according to the city's governor,
Marwan Abboud, who also said that around half of the city has been damaged by the explosion.

According to local media reports, about 85 percent of grain stocks in Lebanon, which relies heavily on food imports, were destroyed. This means the country only has enough grain to last for another month.

The move to impose an emergency was decided during an emergency Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. The Cabinet decided to hand control of security in the capital to the military.

The Cabinet also instructed the military to impose house arrest on anyone involved since 2014 in the administration of the warehouse containing vast amounts of highly-explosive material that blew up, Reuters reported quoting the country’s Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad.

House arrest would apply for all port officials "who have handled the affairs of storing (the) ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork" since June 2014, Samad said.

The move is being seen as an attempt by the government to show the Lebanese people that it is serious about enforcing accountability.

Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.

Customs chief Badri Daher said his agency called for the chemical to be removed, but "this did not happen".

"We leave it to the experts to determine the reasons," the Lebanese president said.

"No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city,” President Aoun said during the Cabinet meeting. — Agencies