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Journalist Near Beirut Explosion Provides Update

NOEL KING, HOST:

Lebanon's prime minister went on TV this morning and he made a promise. He said whoever is responsible for a massive explosion on Beirut's waterfront yesterday will pay a price for it. He said the city is facing a catastrophe. The explosion killed at least 100 people and it injured thousands. Here's what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUILDING EXPLODING)

KING: Lebanese officials say there was a warehouse on the waterfront. And that warehouse had explosive material that wasn't being stored properly. The surrounding neighborhood was flattened. Earlier today, I talked to Leila Molana-Allen. She's a correspondent for France 24. And she lives less than a mile away from the blast site. Hi, Leila.

LEILA MOLANA-ALLEN: Hi.

KING: How are you doing this morning or today where you are?

MOLANA-ALLEN: I'm fine. I'm incredibly lucky. I was in Jordan when my apartment was blown apart by the blast less than a mile, as you say, away from the port. I can see it from the step up by the apartment. But I was incredibly lucky I happened to be away from the glass windows when it happened. And so the injury that I sustained was just a foot injury that I was able to get stitched up at the hospital this morning - had many worse injuries, people around me.

KING: I understand that people have had trouble getting to doctors. I was reading reports yesterday about hospitals just being completely overcrowded. It sounds like things worked out OK for you, though.

MOLANA-ALLEN: Well, the initial concern was almost immediate. And, you know, from the moment it happened, there were injuries everywhere. And what we were hearing was that hospitals were completely overburdened. Hundreds of people turning up at local hospital. They were saying please don't come if you don't need to, if it's not urgent. Lebanon also doesn't have its own ambulance service run by hospitals. In the government, it's run - a volunteer service by the Lebanese Red Cross. And they were completely overwhelmed, too, saying, please don't call us if it's not life threatening. They set up triage stations in downtown. And so those roughly have flesh wounds that could wait - just try to get hold of first-aid equipment and do what we could until things started to calm down in hospitals.

I did eventually find a hospital outside of Beirut at about 2 a.m. that was quieter. And so I knew, by going there, I wouldn't be blocking a space for somebody with a much more serious injury. When I got there, they were, obviously, wonderful. And they've been working eight hours treating hundreds of patients. They stitched up my foot. And they were telling me they had 300 people in this tiny, little hospital in the mountains...

KING: Oh.

MOLANA-ALLEN: ...In just the last three hours. He'd come in, they'd run out of many antibiotics, many of the things they need. They couldn't give us tetanus shots because they'd run out of those as well. Of course, that's what you need from all these debris injuries. They're running out of lots of commodities that they need. There were blood all over the sheets in the ER they weren't able to replace. And they apologized. They were all, really, running bare on their feet and just without the supplies that they needed.

KING: Leila, what are officials in Lebanon saying about what happened here?

MOLANA-ALLEN: So it was all very confusing yesterday. When it happened, I was in the fighting. It sounded like a jet flying overhead, which is something we experience here fairly regularly. It sounded like a jet flying very low overhead. And so when the explosion happened just a couple of seconds later - people had heard that loud thud, which we now think was the initial sound of that huge second explosion. Everyone came running out thinking that it was an attack. It only emerged later that it now looks like it was this enormous amount of ammonia that was left in this area in the port ready to explode, essentially, when it was set fire. It been there six years, an incredibly dangerous material. And it looks like it was simply government ineptitude that left it there. People are incredibly angry.

KING: There are going to be a lot of questions as we move forward. France 24 correspondent Leila Molana-Allen. Thank you so much. And stay safe.

MOLANA-ALLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.