At least one Australian was killed and the Australian embassy in Beirut “considerably” damaged by a huge blast in Lebanon’s capital that left 78 people dead and thousands more injured.
- The Australian embassy was less than 2 kilometres from the blast
- The total death toll was expected to rise as emergency workers search through rubble
- Australian citizens can contact the Beirut embassy for “urgent consular assistance”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s embassy had been “impacted significantly” by the explosion that sent shockwaves across the city, shattering windows, blowing in doors, over-turning cars and smashing masonry.
“We can report all of the staff there are well, but the building that the embassy is in has been significantly compromised,” he said.
Authorities said the blast, which occurred among port warehouses near central Beirut that were storing highly explosive material, killed at least 78 people and injured nearly 4,000.
The death toll was expected to rise further as emergency workers dug through rubble to rescue people and remove the dead.
The Australian embassy is situated about 1.8 kilometres from where the blast occurred.
In a nearby area, journalist Jean Carrere described suffering head injuries when he was thrown through two doors in his home, where walls also collapsed, injuring others.
He told the ABC the downtown area was in chaos, with windows shattered and shopfronts blown in.
Embassy staff hit with broken glass
Mr Morrison said there were usually 20,000 Australians living in Beirut, but he was unsure how coronavirus restrictions may have affected that number.
“But our sympathies to all of the people of Lebanon. There is such a large Lebanese Australian community here and they would be worried about loved ones,” he said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said embassy staff and government departments were providing support for Australians caught in the situation, despite challenging circumstances.
“Fortunately they are relatively minor and they have all been treated. The ambassador Rebekah Grindlay is working with all our Australia-based staff and her locally engaged staff to support them.”
Ms Payne urged Australians with families in Beirut to be patient as they sought information.
“We will be providing as much support as we can, it will be difficult to work in those circumstances, but we’ll use whatever means are at our disposal to support Australians.”
Hours after the blast, Ms Grindlay tweeted: “The darkest of clouds over Beirut tonight. My heart goes out to the families of the deceased.”
The Smart Traveller website said Australian citizens could contact the embassy for “urgent consular assistance”.
“The Australian embassy has been impacted, but our staff are still working,” the website said, advising Australians in Beirut to avoid the port area and “follow the advice of local authorities”.
“There are reports of widespread damage and casualties. Hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed.”
Beirut was already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.
President Michel Aoun said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
He called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared.
Even prior to the blast, Smart Traveller had rated Lebanon at level 4, saying “your health and safety is at extreme risk”.
“This may be because of a high threat of terrorist attack, conflict, violent social unrest, widespread infectious disease or critical levels of violent crime,” the Smart Traveller website said.
“If you travel to this location you’re at a high risk of death, imprisonment, kidnapping or serious injury.”