World

Beirut blast death toll rises to 178

By AAP Newswire

The death toll from last week's massive explosion in Lebanon's capital has risen to nearly 180, with an estimated 6000 people injured and at least 30 missing, the United Nations says.

The explosion has affected operations at six hospitals, up from an initial three, and damaged more than 20 clinics in the parts of Beirut worst hit by the blast, the UN's humanitarian affairs agency said in a report on Friday.

"A preliminary rapid assessment within a 15km radius of the explosions has revealed that, out of 55 medical facilities, only half are fully operational and around 40 per cent have suffered moderate to serious damage and need rehabilitation," the report said.

It is still not known what caused the fire on August 4 which ignited nearly 3000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port. But documents have emerged in the wake of the blast which show that the country's top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals being stored there.

The explosion has changed the face of the capital and forced the government to resign.

Lebanon's Parliament on Thursday approved a state of emergency in Beirut in its first session since the disaster, granting the military sweeping powers amid rising popular anger and political uncertainty.

Some 120 schools, used by 50,000 students, have been damaged. More than 1000 of nearly 50,000 residential units were severely damaged, the UN said.

At least 13 refugees, including at least two Palestinians, were among the 178 people killed and more than 170,000 residents' apartments were damaged, according to the report.

Despite damage to the silos in the city's port, the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said food shortages are not expected.

The blast struck Beirut in the midst of a crippling financial and economic crisis, and the UN predicted that people may have difficulties restoring or repairing their homes. But at least 55 per cent of buildings assessed were rented, which may allow people to move elsewhere, the UN said.

According to the organisation, Beirut port is operating at 30 per cent capacity and Tripoli port in the country's north at 70 per cent, which is allowing food and goods to continue to flow.

The World Food Program is bringing in a three-month supply of wheat flour and grains.

The agency said however that it is concerned about a surge in coronavirus cases, particularly as social distancing has been relaxed during the widespread volunteering to help those affected by the blast and protests against the government and political elite.

The government resigned on August 10 and the Cabinet remains in a caretaker capacity.

Protesters are demanding officials be held accountable for the blast.

The Lebanese probe got off to a shaky start, with political bickering over who would lead it, military threats to jail anyone responsible for leaks, and doubts about whether a panel appointed along sectarian lines could be fully impartial.

Sceptical Lebanese fear the government will go after lower level figures and not look into senior officials who did nothing about the huge stockpile of explosive chemicals stored at the port for years.

French forensic police have joined the investigation and the FBI is also expected to take part.