Hospitals in blast-hit north Lebanon struggle with power cuts

Crisis in the Akkar region where a fuel tank explosion killed at least 28 people this week

Hospitals in the Akkar region of north Lebanon, where a fuel tank explosion killed at least 28 people this week, struggled to operate on Tuesday as life-threatening power and telecoms cuts swept the area.

Lights and phone lines went out across the impoverished and marginalised region that has long suffered from an ailing power grid but is now dealing with a crisis due to severe diesel shortages nationwide.

Less than two days ago the fuel tank exploded in the village of Tleil, scorching people gathered for petrol that the army was distributing.

About 80 people including soldiers were injured, many of them with severe burns, overwhelming hospitals.

Fuel shortages since the start of summer have aggravated hardship in the country of more than 6 million, which is in the throes of an economic crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst since the mid-19th century.

Without the diesel to power private generators, businesses, hospitals and even the country's main telecoms operator have had to reduce operations or close because of power cuts lasting up to 22 hours a day.

In Akkar, hospitals storing corpses of victims in Sunday's blast were without power, internet and working landlines, as health officials pleaded for help from the authorities.

"We have a stock of 700 litres of diesel fuel which will last for only one day," said Riad Rahal, director of Rahal Hospital in the Akkar town of Halba.

The nearby El Youssef hospital also had enough stock of diesel to last until Wednesday morning but no working phone lines, said Nathaline El Chaar, assistant to the director.

"Since yesterday, landlines have been out of service ... and we are trying hard to secure diesel," Ms El Chaar told AFP.

She said the hospital's diesel provider had delayed deliveries, fearing attacks on a north Lebanon motorway where in recent days angry groups seized fuel from lorries.

But the official National News Agency said on Tuesday that diesel shortages and power cuts forced the Ogero telecoms provider to cut internet, landlines and mobile phone services in several parts of Akkar, paralysing banks, businesses and state offices.

Ogero chief Imad Kreidieh warned that other regions in Lebanon would have to follow unless the situation improved.

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, shots were fired at a petrol station in the latest incident as motorists lined up in long queues.

The NNA said the army was sent to the area after several people were wounded in the shooting, but did not provide more details.

A security source told AFP that people who had illegally stored petrol at a pumping station fired live rounds as soldiers tried to confiscate their stock.

They also started a fire at the petrol station, accusing its owner of having tipped off the army.

Videos and pictures circulating on social media showed men firing machineguns, although the authenticity of the footage could not be verified.

The army on Saturday started raiding petrol stations and confiscating stocks of fuel that distributors have been hoarding to sell at a higher price in the black market or across the border in Syria.

Lebanon's military said on Twitter it had seized more than 4.3 million litres of petrol and 2.2 million litres of fuel oil between Saturday and Monday.

It forced the owners of these supplies to sell almost all of the petrol and 1.6 million litres of fuel oil to hospitals, bakeries and a power utility, and to distribute more for free, the military said.

Updated: August 17th 2021, 9:49 PM