Rescuers in Lebanon recover more bodies

French rescue workers on a wrecked street following a huge blast at Beirut's port.
French rescue workers on a wrecked street following a huge blast at Beirut's port.

Rescue teams continue to search the rubble of Beirut's port for bodies nearly three days after a massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon's capital, killing nearly 150 people and wounding thousands.

At least three more bodies have been recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 149, according to authorities on Friday.

The blast shredded a large grain silo, devastated neighbourhoods near the port and left several city blocks littered with glass and rubble.

French and Russian rescue teams with dogs were searching the port area on Friday, the day after French President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to the site, promising aid and vowing to press for reforms by Lebanon's long-entrenched political leaders.

The blast was apparently caused by the ignition of 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for explosives and fertiliser, that had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013.

The government has launched an investigation as it has come under mounting criticism, with many Lebanese blaming the catastrophe on negligence and corruption.

Search and rescue teams have been sent from several countries to help locate survivors of the blast. Among those located in the rubble near the grain silo was Joe Akiki, a 23-year-old port worker who had been missing since the explosion.

Dozens of people are still missing. Some 300,000 people - more than 12 per cent of Beirut's population - are unable to return to their homes because of the explosion, which blew out doors and windows across the city and left many buildings uninhabitable. Officials have estimated losses at $US10 billion to $US15 billion.

Damaged hospitals, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, are still struggling to deal with the wounded.

The investigation is focusing on port and customs officials, with 16 employees detained and others questioned. But many Lebanese say it points to much greater rot that permeates the political system and extends to the country's top leadership.

Australian Associated Press