BEIRUT (Reuters) – As exhausted rescuers combed wreckage to find anyone still alive from the Beirut blast, three disconsolate families camped outside the port where their loved ones were last located.
Elias Marouni sat in a chair describing his George, a 30-year-old army officer who worked at the shattered facility and was just metres away from the epicentre of the explosion that killed 154 people and injured 5,000.
“We would like to go inside the port to look for my son but we can’t get permission,” he said after waiting for three days. “No one is helping us, only God can.”
Hours earlier, rescue workers drove past him transporting three dead bodies.
Lebanese authorities said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.
It blew up on Tuesday, sending a mushroom cloud and fireball into the sky and smashing a swathe of the Mediterranean city.
Mohammed Zahid has also been waiting since the blast outside an entrance to the port, along with a dozen others. He sleeps on a sidewalk in the hope his brother Amin, a security guard, somehow survived, or at least his body can be found.
“We went to a hospital to give our DNA to match it with relatives. Nobody got back to us,” he said, close to a sign with directions to different sections of the port that hung sideways from the force of the blast.
President Michel Aoun said the investigation would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external forces.
But the homeless and bereaved were not concerned with causes. Families outside the port just prayed they could see their loved ones again.
“We wait day-by-day, hour-by-hour. We don’t want the state’s help because we won’t get it. We just want to go in there and look for ourselves,” said Gharib Hatoun, whose cousin Imad went missing shortly after the blast.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)