BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the explosion in Beirut (all times local):
Pope Francis has sent a 250,000-euro (nearly $300,000) donation to the Church of Lebanon to help in the aftermath of the explosion.
The Vatican described that donation as “initial aid” that is intended as a sign of the pontiff’s “fatherly closeness to people in serious difficulty.”
The aid has been sent through the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Beirut.
The Vatican noted that churches and monasteries were among the buildings destroyed by the blast in the port.
Already underway is “an immediate emergency and first aid response” including medical care, shelters for the displaced and center of basic needs made available by the church through various Catholic charities, the Vatican said in announcing the papal donation on Friday.
European Council President Charles Michel is heading to blast-ravaged Beirut for weekend talks with Lebanon’s leaders as the EU weighs up its contribution to a donor conference in coming days.
Michel, who chairs summits of the EU’s 27 national leaders, will hold talks on Saturday with Lebanon’s president, prime minister and the speaker of parliament.
He will also take part in a French-organized donor conference, along with the EU’s crisis management commissioner. Brussels has said that the virtual meeting would take place on Sunday, but France has yet to confirm a date.
The EU has sent more than 300 rescue workers, sniffer dogs, vehicles and equipment to Lebanon and around 33 million euros ($39 million) is being provided to help address emergency needs, despite concerns that the money might be misused due to deep corruption in the country.
EU commission spokesman Peter Stano said Friday that Europe’s leaders are underlining the need for change in Lebanon, which was already shaken by a severe economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic before Tuesday’s massive explosion at the Beirut port.
He says the tragedy “is a wake-up call also for the Lebanese politicians to start efforts to unite themselves and to embark on a very serious reform effort, because it is so obvious to Lebanese people and also to Lebanese partners outside that Lebanon needs profound reforms.”
U.N. organizations are stepping up efforts to help Beirut’s beleaguered population after a chemical explosion, expressing concerns about food shortages, a lack of COVID-19 protective gear, and tens of thousands of homeless children.
At a U.N. briefing in Geneva on Friday, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the organization was appealing for $15 million for emergency trauma and humanitarian health support. He said 17 containers laden with personal protective equipment — much needed for fighting the coronavirus outbreak — were destroyed in the blast. WHO has sent in trauma and surgical supplies already.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says as many as 100,000 children are among those whose homes were damaged or destroyed and have now been displaced.
She says the areas around the blast faced the most active community transmission of COVID-19, and said it was “impossible for those affected to practice safe distancing” — alluding to recommendations by WHO and other health officials that people should keep a safe distances from each other to fight the coronavirus.
World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs says the agency’s allocating 5,000 food parcels to families in Beirut, noting that Lebanon imports 85 percent of its food — much of it through the now-damaged Beirut port.
Saudi Arabia has sent two planes to Lebanon carrying more than 120 tons of medicine, medical devices, emergency supplies, tents, shelter kits and food items for people in Beirut affected by the massive explosion this week.
The Saudi government said Friday a specialized team from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center will supervise the distribution.
The U.N. human rights office is calling for an independent investigation into the Beirut explosion, insisting that “victims’ calls for accountability must be heard.”
Spokesman Rupert Colville of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights cited the need for the international community to “step up” to help Lebanon with both a quick response and sustained engagement.
He said Lebanon is facing the “triple tragedy of a socio-economic crisis, COVID-19 and the ammonium nitrate explosion” that devastated the capital on Tuesday.
Colville also called for the poor and most vulnerable to be respected as Beirut and Lebanon rebuild, and urged Lebanese leaders to “overcome political stalemates and address the grievances of the population.” That was an allusion to large protests that broke out in Lebanon in October.
A team of 22 French investigators has started work in Beirut to search for evidence and bodies from Tuesday’s deadly explosion and help Lebanese authorities determine what caused it.
Based on information from Lebanon so far, France’s No. 2 forensic police official Dominique Abbenanti says the explosion “appears to be an accident” but that it’s too early to say for sure.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he predicted that “the death toll will grow” as more bodies are found.
French investigators are involved at the request of Lebanon, and also because one French person died and at least 40 were injured.
Eric Berot, chief of a unit involved in the investigation, says the zone the investigators cover “is enormous. It’s a titanic job.”
He says the investigation is complicated by the huge scale of the damage and “the Lebanese situation,” referring to the political and economic crisis in the country before the explosion.
Rescue teams are searching the rubble of Beirut’s port for bodies, nearly three days after a massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon’s capital, killing nearly 150 people and wounding thousands.
French and Russian rescue teams with dogs are searching the area, and at least three more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 149.
The government has launched an investigation as it faces mounting criticism, with many Lebanese blaming the catastrophe on negligence and corruption.
The blast was apparently caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for explosives and fertilizer, that had been stored at the port since being confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013.
The blast shredded a large grain silo, devastated neighborhoods near the port and left several city blocks littered with glass and rubble.