On Tuesday evening at 6pm a warehouse at the Beirut Port, Lebanon, containing large quantities of ammonium nitrate exploded.
After an initial explosion, a subsequent blast caused widespread damage, with reports of damage more than 20 kilometers from the port area. Tragically, over 157 people have died and 5000 people have been injured with scores of people still missing.
A team of five members of the UK Emergency Medical Team are leaving for Beirut today as part of a UK medical assessment team sent by the UK government, joining a sixth member Rocco Massad who is already on the ground.
UK-Med Logistics Lead Rocco told us three of the main hospitals in Beirut have been evacuated, including one which specialised in treating burns victims. Hospitals still operating have been overwhelmed with casualties. The explosions come as many intensive care units are already reaching capacity with COVID-19 patients, and the situation on the ground is changing rapidly.
Rocco Massad describes the moment he heard the explosion:
“I was home – approximately 50 kilometres direct line from Beirut – at about 6 pm. Initially, I thought there was an earthquake going on because it was so loud. And then a few minutes later, the calls started coming in, and WhatApps, and news feeds.
At first I was worried about my family, who live close to the area. I was calling them, calling them, but the phone networks were all so saturated because everyone was calling for their families and friends. So I ended up driving to Beirut to check on them and they were already on their way to the hospital.
The damage is massive. I was in the emergency room the first night, all night, and you could see complete chaos.
Three major hospitals got destroyed – maybe not completely, but partially at least – and they stopped operating because they stopped having power supply, water, oxygen, and this stuff.
Some hospitals are operating with some minor damages – mostly blown windows – but the situation was very chaotic for the first few hours. Everybody inside the emergency room, looking for their loved ones, because nobody knew which hospitals everybody was transferred to.
This time is actually different for me because I’m used to responding emergencies away from me, less emotionally attached, but this one is right on my doorstep.”
Joining Rocco, the assessment team is made up of four UK-Med employees, CEO David Wightwick, Surgical Lead Andy Kent, Health Advisor David Anderson and Medical Logistics Lead Stacey Ibbott; joined by Humanity and Inclusion’s Zoe Clift, Rehabilitation Lead and UK EMT register member.
The team expect to be in country for at least ten days. On arrival they will make contact with partners and healthcare facilities across the city to determine the immediate needs on the ground and how the UK Emergency Medical Team can best support the people of Beirut.
The explosions have created a crisis within a crisis for Lebanon. Economic contraction, increasing poverty and rising prices have made life harder for Lebanese and non-Lebanese communities, including the large refugee population in Lebanon. COVID-19 transmission is straining the country’s health systems and social tensions are growing in many parts of the country. It is an incredibly complex situation.
The UK Emergency Medical Team’s on-call register is now on standby with a second team of staff made up of the necessary medical specialists, should they be required.