The U.S. military is sending three cargo planes to Lebanon filled with food, water, and medical supplies, the U.S. Central Command announced in a statement Thursday two days after a massive explosion in Beirut's port left at least 157 dead and some 5,000 injured.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, spoke with Lebanon Armed Forces Commander, Gen. Joseph Aoun, to express condolences for the loss of life and devastation caused by the explosion in Beirut's port facility, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement to Fox News.
Three C-17s shipments of U.S. relief supplies including food, water, and medical supplies would be delivered to Lebanon, Gen. McKenzie said, adding that the U.S. military was willing to continue to work with the Lebanese Armed Forces “to help provide aid and assistance to meet the needs of the Lebanese people during this terrible tragedy.” The planes departed from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar en route to Beirut, officials told Fox News.
Gen. McKenzie also “expressed a desire to continue to partner with the Lebanese Armed Forces, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and USAID to identify and expedite support for Lebanon's recovery effort.”
Pentagon officials are expected to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to further outline U.S. relief efforts in Lebanon.
Volunteers and the Lebanese Red Cross continued to search for survivors and dead bodies trapped beneath the extensive damage seen for miles away from the explosion’s epicenter at the Port of Beirut, where Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years.
Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanese customs, told local media on Wednesday that his office sent six letters to the country’s judiciary over the years expressing concern over the ammonium nitrate stored at the port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013.
His letters said the cargo was the equivalent of “a floating bomb" and posed a risk of exploding if they weren't removed from a warehouse at the port but the warnings went unheeded, the Washington Post reported, citing legal documents and Lebanese officials.
An unspecified number of port officials were placed on house arrest on Wednesday amid the Lebanese government's five-day investigation into the explosion. Public anger mounted against the Lebanese ruling elite that is being blamed for the chronic mismanagement and carelessness that led to the disaster. The port and customs office is notorious for being one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon where various factions and politicians, including Hezbollah, hold sway.
The first world leader to visit the site of the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds of protesters in Beirut on Thursday that foreign aid dollars would not fall into "corrupt hands" but warned the already economically strapped Lebanon would "continue to sink" unless its leaders carry out reforms, Al Jazeera reported.
Australia pledged an initial 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4 million) to the relief effort in Lebanon. France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Jordan and China are among the nations also sending search-and-rescue teams as well as doctors and specialists to treat the wounded.
The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said at least one American citizen was killed and several more were injured. More than 100 U.N. staff members and dependents were injured, and two family members of U.N. staffers were killed. At least 22 members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon were among the injured. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Thursday that an embassy employee was found to be killed inside her home in Beirut in the aftermath of the explosion, Reuters reported.
As international aid flights began to arrive in Lebanon, hospitals, already struggling with the financial crisis and coronavirus pandemic, were overwhelmed by the wave of injured. Many patients had to be treated in hallways and parking lots once the wards filled up.
The Lebanese Army stepped in Wednesday to assume security operations in the capital amid a two-week state of emergency. Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless. Dozens of people remain missing, as the death toll is expected to climb.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.