Beirut redoubles rescue efforts; patients continue to surge to exhausted hospitals

As rescue efforts continue in Beirut following Tuesday's explosion, a wave of new patients seek care at damaged, overworked hospitals.

al-monitor Lebanese and French rescuers search for victims and survivors amid the rubble of a building in the Gemayzeh neighborhood on Aug. 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion in the Beirut port shook the capital.  Photo by AFP via Getty Images.
Joe Snell

Joe Snell

@joesnell03

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Beirut explosion

Aug 6, 2020

Rescue efforts began almost immediately after Tuesday’s massive explosion rocked Beirut and its surrounding area, in total affecting over 2 million people, in a crisis that has flooded already overworked hospital staff.

On Wednesday, residents began clearing glass and rubble strewn across the city, sweeping popular streets and neighborhoods in places such as Gemayzeh and Mar Mikhael. They helped clear the path for rescue workers to begin searching for missing people.

At least 149 people were reported killed and about 5,000 injured by the blast, and officials expect the death toll to rise. The destruction has left hundreds of thousands homeless and many people are missing. 

The explosion occurred after a warehouse fire at the Beirut Port spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. According to reports, the stockpile had been there over six years without proper safety measures in place, amid failed efforts by port officials to have the chemicals removed.

In one instance of the rescue efforts, a civil defense worker, buried in the rubble of a collapsed building for over 16 hours, was met with cheers as he was pulled from the carnage and placed on a stretcher by emergency workers. 

The necessity of these efforts have promoted international action. On Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief sent 50 officials and a group of canines to Beirut for efforts to recover individuals buried under the rubble. And Mehmet Gulluoglu, the director of the Turkish Interior Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management department, arrived in Lebanon today to offer assistance.

Those saved from the rubble will join a flood of residents to the city’s hospitals, which were already reeling from a surge in coronavirus cases and a crumbling economic situation. As one man from the district of Achrafieh told Al-Monitor, to find the nearest hospital you only needed to follow the trail of blood. 

Mourad Achkar, an information technology manager who was working a few blocks away from the port when the blast occurred, suffered injuries under an eye and to his hands. At the hospital Wednesday, he described the scene as chaos, with “many, many people covered in blood and with serious injuries” waiting in line for hours. After waiting for over two hours, he forfeited his spot in line to those with more serious injuries. He planned to return to the hospital the next day. 

Listen to Achkar's account below:

Many Beirut residents are still searching for friends and family. Social media accounts, such as Instagram’s Locate Victims Beirut page, have posted images and descriptions of individuals who are yet to be found.

And hospitals continue to brace for a wave of new patients. These sites were already stretched to take care of a sharp increase in coronavirus patients. As of today, the country had counted 5,672 cases of the virus and 70 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. 

To complicate the situation, the explosion destroyed three hospitals and damaged two more, according to the World Health Organization, and some patients had to be turned away. The St. George Hospital, located less than a mile from the explosion, treated patients in the street. 

On Tuesday, the country initiated a two-week state of emergency. Lebanese President Michel Aoun convened an emergency Cabinet meeting Wednesday and called the unchecked storage of ammonium nitrate at the port for six years “unacceptable” and pledged the “harshest punishments.”

Efforts to hold those responsible have already begun, as a number of Beirut port officials were ordered placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the explosion, the Lebanese government said. 

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