The detonation of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate inside the city’s port on Aug. 4 killed 171 people, injured some 6,000 and left hundreds of thousands without homes.
The blast heavily damaged at least four of the city’s major hospitals, sparking mass evacuations even as wounded residents streamed in looking for help. In a visit Tuesday to Beirut’s Geitawi hospital, Washington Post reporters walked through the ruins of a once-busy facility. Broken glass had been swept away, but the corridors were still badly damaged.
On the night of the blast, physician Joseph Khalil said, glass had ripped through the air as staff leaped to save patients. Doctors and nurses in the newly opened coronavirus ward grabbed people from their beds and carried them out for transfers to other hospitals.
“The response was a miracle,” he said. “It was chaos, but they saved our patients.” He said the facility had been able to restart dialysis treatment within 24 hours and that some patients were now receiving chemotherapy again, too.
Cases of the coronavirus are spiking in Lebanon. The Health Ministry said Wednesday that it had recorded 292 new cases, bringing the total to 7,413 in a country of 6.8 million. An adviser to Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the government was considering a fresh lockdown in some of the country’s worst-affected areas.
Even before the blast, public health officials had warned that the health system was ill-equipped to cope with the rising caseload. Lebanon has been hit hard by an economic crisis that has seen food prices triple in a year as the currency crashes.
After touring Beirut’s hospitals to assess their needs, Benlahsen Mourad, a military physician from Marseille, France, said Wednesday that the city had a shortage of medical supplies, including anesthetics and antibiotics, in the aftermath of the blast.
“The big problem is covid[-19] protection,” he said, including masks, drugs and protective gear. “It’s not enough.”
His team met with Beirut governor Marwan Abboud to discuss assistance. Mourad said an emergency room was being set up in the hard-hit Karantina neighborhood for those who couldn’t pay. An adviser to the governor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide the information to news media, said that it’s not clear when damaged hospitals will be functional again.
“They need time,” he said. “Even if they are inoperational, they are working just to have the emergency area accessible.”
But the needs are broad. “It’s not just beds, it’s about ventilators, it’s about equipment, it’s about medicine,” he said.
International humanitarian organizations are asking to set up field hospitals, he said. While countries including France, Germany, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have helped with medical aid, there are issues with its distribution. “It’s chaotic,” he said.
The explosion last week has been widely blamed on official negligence. Lebanese authorities had received repeated warnings about the huge volume of highly volatile material stored in the port, at the edge of downtown.
The blast has prompted angry demonstrations demanding the government’s ouster. Protesters clashed with security forces for three nights in a row.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Monday he was resigning, citing corruption “larger than the state.” On Tuesday, the World Food Program said it was sending 50,000 tons of wheat flour to Lebanon after the blast destroyed the port’s grain silo.
Nader Durgham and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut contributed to this report.