Beirut Mayor says he didn’t have authority to take action over the ammonium nitrate warnings

The Mayor of Beirut says he didn’t have the authority to take action and "did not know the details” of warnings said to have been given to the authorities before Tuesday's huge explosion.

Mayor Jamal Itani spoke to Good Morning Britain following a blast in Lebanon's capital, killing at least 137 people and injured about 5,000 others, while dozens are still missing. A two-week state of emergency has begun.

“I’m trying to do the best as I can with the authority that I have. People know exactly the authority the Mayor has in Beirut, it’s different from the rest of Lebanon as I said and it’s different to the rest of the world," the Mayor told Good Morning Britain as he called for a change in authority in Lebanon.

Of whether the blast was avoidable, the Mayor said: “Absolutely.”  

Asked if he has a personal sense of responsibility or guilt as Mayor he said: “No, I feel bad. But I feel guilty? No, I don’t feel guilt. I feel guilty that we are hopeless and we don’t have the authority to have taken action in that regard.” 

Speaking in response to reports that the authorities were given warnings from inspectors about the storing of ammonium nitrate and that, as Mayor, he must have known of the potential danger, he said: “No, we did not know the details. The port has a different authority. It’s a separate authority that belongs to the Ministry of Public Works. They know exactly where it was cited, they know what the danger is and the government is responsible for that and the people who are responsible now are under house arrest until the investigation is over.” 

Mayor Jamal was optimistic about Beirut's recovery and called for international help: “The Lebanese are very well known for their survival spirit. We will rebuild Beirut again and we will survive again, of course, I have no doubt of this. It’s going to take a lot of work, it’s going to take a lot of money, it’s going to take a lot of good contacts with close countries that are helping us, friendly countries like Europe and the US and other countries as well.”

Asked if the people of Beirut can trust that the authorities will help them rebuild, he said: “All Lebanese are joining hands to work together to clear up the mess that has happened and start helping the people who have damaged homes… we will not leave anybody homeless.”