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At least one American is among the dead in Beirut and ‘several others’ are injured

At least one American citizen was killed and several others injured when a massive explosions rocked Beirut on Tuesday, the US Embassy in the Lebanese capital has said.

In a Wednesday statement, the embassy said it’s still working closely with local authorities to determine if any additional US citizens died or were hurt in the blast.

‘We offer our sincerest condolences to their loved ones and are working to provide the affected U.S. citizens and their families all possible consular assistance,’ the statement read.

The death toll in Beirut continued to rise Wednesday as at least 135 people have now been confirmed to have died in the blast, with more than 5,000 others injured.

 

The explosion was triggered when a warehouse filled with dangerous chemicals caught fire in the city’s port area and erupted with the force of a small nuclear bomb yesterday evening.

Lebanon Health Minister Hamad Hassan says he expects to number of fatalities to continue to rise, with many still missing as emergency services continue to pull bodies out from beneath the rubble.

The enormous explosion, which leveled a large portion of the city, has also left up to 300,000 people homeless, local officials said. Lebanon was already grappling with a severe coronavirus outbreak, poor governance and an economic crisis before the devastating blast rang out.

Beirut’s hospitals reached capacity a short time after the explosion, forcing hundreds of the wounded to travel as far at 50 miles north, to Tripoli, to receive treatment. At least three hospitals were damaged in the blast.

The exact cause of the explosion is still under investigation, however it’s thought to have been triggered after a welder caused a fire that spread to an adjacent warehouse where 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was being stored without adequate safety precautions.

During a video appearance at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that intelligence about the explosion is still coming in, however ‘most believe it was an accident, as reported.’

The tentative conclusions drawn by Esper contradict a statement issued by President Trump during a White House Briefing on Tuesday evening, in which he called the blast a ‘terrible attack’.

Declining to provide any evidence of his claims, Trump said he had ‘met with some of our great generals and they seem to feel that it was [an attack].

‘This was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event. They would know better than I would,’ the president continued. ‘They seem to think … it was a bomb of some kind, yes.’

The Pentagon declined to comment on the president’s claims when quizzed by DailyMail.com.

Trump added that US is sending its thoughts and prayers out ‘to all the victims and their families. The united States stands ready to assist Lebanon,’ he said.

Following an emergency cabinet meeting, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun announced that an unspecified number of people in charge of seeing the ammonium nitrate stash at the warehouse at the center of the blast are to be placed on house arrest.

Aoun also said that four government field hospitals will be set up in the city to help treat the overwhelming number of victims, and an official report into the explosion will be delivered to the cabinet in the next five days.

Ammonium nitrate is a type of fertilizer that can be used to make bombs. It’s the same fertilizer that was used to make explosives in the Oklahoma City bombings that killing 168 people in 1995.

The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate was reportedly confiscated from a commercial cargo ship abandoned in Beirut in 2013.

According to the lawyers who represented its crew, the ship, the Rhosus, was forced to dock because of technical issues in autumn 2013 and then forbidden to sail by Lebanese authorities after they found a number of violations during an inspection.

The lawyers said the ammonium was seized by Beirut’s port authorities and placed in warehouses to await auctioning or proper disposal, according to ABC News. But the nitrate was never moved.

The Lebanese Red Cross has made urgent appeals for blood donations, having sent more than 75 ambulances and 375 EMT’s to the scene. Search a rescue teams continue to sift through the rubble in search of survivors across Wednesday.

A firefighter told ABC that a group of 10 emergency responders who responded to the initial fire at the warehouse are currently missing, having potentially been caught up in the blast.

Multiple videos of the explosion show fires and thick plumes of smoke emanating from a building in Beirut’s port area before a mushroom cloud erupts, sending a shockwave ripping through the city.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab called the explosion a ‘catastrophe’ and vowed that those responsible ‘will pay for what happened’.

Diab said an investigation will be launched into the conditions at the ‘dangerous warehouse’ where the blast occurred.

‘I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,’ he added during a televised address.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with the Lebanese Prime Minister to express his condolences and offer assistance on Wednesday.

Esper also said Wednesday that the US is ‘positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can: humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it, to assist the people of Lebanon.’

A spokesperson for the US State Department said they are urging ‘US citizens in the affected areas who are safe to contact their loved ones directly and/or update their status on social media.

‘If you are in the affected area and need immediate emergency services, please contact local authorities. We urge US citizens to avoid the affected areas / shelter in place and follow the directions of local authorities.’

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