At least 20 people were killed and nearly 80 others injured when a fuel tank exploded in northern Lebanon on Sunday, burning crowds clamouring for gasoline in the crisis-hit country.
The tragedy overwhelmed medical facilities and spurred a search for the missing, heaping new misery on a nation already beset by an economic crisis and severe fuel shortages that have crippled hospitals and caused long power cuts.
“Our teams have transported 20 dead bodies … from the fuel tanker explosion” to hospitals, the Lebanese Red Cross said on Twitter.
It added that 79 other people were injured during the blast, which took place in al-Talil in the northern region of Akkar.
The official National News Agency said that a container of fuel that the army had confiscated — part of an effort to stop suppliers from hoarding amid the shortages — had exploded.
It said the blast followed scuffles between “residents that gathered around the container to fill up gasoline” overnight.
– ‘Can’t identify them’ –
George Kettaneh of the Lebanese Red Cross warned that the tragedy will pile pressure on the burns centre at Geitawi hospital in Beirut, and the country’s other specialist facility, in the northern city of Tripoli.
Yassine Metlej, an employee at an Akkar hospital, said it had received at least seven corpses and dozens of burns victims.
“The corpses are so charred that we can’t identify them,” he told AFP.
“Some have lost their faces, others their arms.”
He said that the hospital had to turn away most of the wounded because it is not equipped to treat severe burns.
The burns centre at Tripoli’s Al-Salam hospital struggled with the influx of patients and had to turn many away.
The Geitawi burns centre also struggled to keep up.
“The burns are very severe… almost their entire bodies are burned,” said one doctor there.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan instructed hospitals across the country “to receive the wounded… at the ministry’s expense and without reluctance.”
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