1 of 6 | Residents inspect the damage of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Wednesday. Photo by Ahmad Terro/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Lebanese security forces and protesters clashed in Beirut as demonstrators took to the streets in anger as the death toll from Tuesday's devastating explosion continued to climb.
Officials said the death toll from the blast that damaged several city blocks in downtown Beirut has climbed to at least 157 but it is expected to further rise as search-and-rescue operations continue, Al Jazeera reported.
The blast near the Beirut port was the equivalent of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake that razed buildings and injured more than 5,000. Officials believe its cause was nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at a nearby warehouse.
Protesters who blame the explosion on government negligence demonstrated near parliament Thursday night and clashed with security forces who attempted to disperse them with tear gas, the BBC reported.
Local law enforcement has arrested 16 people in connection to their investigation into the explosion.
The protests came as UNICEF, the U.N. agency that oversees humanitarian aid for youth, said some 80,000 children in Beirut have been displaced by the blast and families are in need of support.
"Over the past 24 hours, UNICEF continued to coordinate closely with authorities and partners on the ground to respond to the urgent needs of families affected, focusing on health, water and the well-being of children," Violet Speek-Warnery, UNICEF deputy representative in Lebanon, said in a statement, stating her organization immediately needs some $4.4 million.
At least 12 primary healthcare facilities in the city have been damaged, affecting some 120,000 people. At least one newborn died at a children's hospital that was destroyed, UNICEF said.
The World Health Organization has asked the international community for $15 million to cover immediate emergency trauma and humanitarian health needs to combat COVID-19 in the city.
The blast occurred as the country is fighting an escalating outbreak of the coronavirus, recording a record 255 cases on Thursday, increasing its total number of infections to 5,672, according to data from its ministry of health.
"We are particularly concerned about overburdened hospital and health workforce capacity, shortages of medicines and medical supplies and the public health impact of the chemical fumes, especially on people with underlying health conditions," Dr. Iman Shankiti, WHO's representative to Lebanon, said in a statement. "The acute displacement of many people also risks accelerating the spread of COVID-19 and the outbreak of other diseases, including other respiratory and waterborne diseases."
The European Council on Thursday called on its partners in a letter to increase aid to Lebanon not only for its immediate needs but for its long-term reconstruction.
"In order to ensure efficiency and swift delivery, we stand ready to ensure the synergy of the aid that you and the EU as a whole will provide to Lebanon, through a coordination mechanism that the EU institutions will put in place," European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen said in the joint letter.