A fuel tanker truck exploded early Sunday in northern Lebanon, killing 20 people and wounding dozens more, the Lebanese Red Cross said. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast.
The Lebanese Red Cross said its teams recovered 20 bodies from the site of the explosion in the village of Tleil and evacuated 79 people who were injured or suffered burns in the blast.
Hours after the blast, Lebanese Red Cross members were still searching the area in cease there were more victims as Lebanese soldiers cordoned the area.
Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan called on all hospitals in northern Lebanon and the capital, Beirut, to receive those injured by the explosion, adding that the government will pay for their treatment.
Hospitals in northern Lebanon were calling on people to donate blood of all types and local TV stations showed a telephone number for those interested in donating blood to call.
The explosion comes as Lebanon faces a severe fuel shortage that has been blamed on smuggling, hoarding and the cash-strapped government’s inability to secure deliveries of imported fuel.
Tleil is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Syrian border, but it was not immediately clear if the fuel in the tanker was being prepared to be smuggled to Syria. where prices are much higher compared to those in Lebanon.
The fuel crisis deteriorated dramatically this week after the central bank decided to end subsidies for fuel products — a decision that will likely lead to price hikes of almost all commodities in Lebanon, already in the throes of soaring poverty and hyperinflation.
On Saturday, Lebanese troops deployed to petrol stations, forcing owners to sell fuel to customers. Some gas station owners have been refusing to sell, waiting to make gains when prices increase with the end of subsidies.
The Lebanese army also has been cracking down on smugglers active along the Syrian border, confiscating thousands of liters of gasoline over the past days.
Lebanon’s consumption of diesel increased sharply over the past few months amid severe power cuts for much of the day that increased people’s reliance on private generators.
Lebanon has for decades suffered electricity cuts, partly because of widespread corruption and mismanagement in the small Mediterranean nation of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees.
Sunday’s explosion was the deadliest in the country since an Aug. 4, 2020, blast at Beirut’s port killed at least 214, wounded thousands and destroyed parts of the capital.