Lebanese President Michel Aoun vowed the “harshest punishment” for those responsible for the national catastrophe.
Officials predict that the number of fatalities and injuries will continue to climb as emergency workers dig through the rubble to search for survivors.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hasan Diab declared August 5 a day of mourning. Meanwhile, Lebanese President Michel Aoun assembled the country’s High Defense Council and called for a two-week state of emergency as the country assesses the damage.
The blast was felt as far as Cyprus, 200 kilometers away from its epicenter, and registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake. It was linked to 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate, a substance commonly used in bombs and fertilizer, that was being stored at a Beirut port for six years.
Diab said that the storage of the highly explosive substance was “unacceptable” and “all those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price.”
According to Al Jazeera, public records indicate that the cargo, stored in a hangar, arrived in a Russian-owned cargo vessel headed from Georgia to Mozambique in September 2013.
Information provided by lawyers representing the ship’s crew states that due to technical problems at sea, the ship was forced to dock in Beirut and later prevented from sailing.
Abandoned by its owners and crew, the materials aboard the vessel were offloaded and stored in the port.
In the following months and years, Lebanese customs director and officials sent numerous letters to an “Urgent Matters judge,” requesting a solution for the hazardous materials.
Despite being made aware of the risk posed by the abandoned cargo, the judge failed to respond to the letters.
The cause of the explosion in Beirut is still unknown. An investigation is underway and the committee involved is to refer its findings to the judiciary within five days.