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Lebanon grows angry in search for answers in explosion aftermath

BEIRUT — When the blast slammed into his hospital, Dr. Ibrahim Melki leaned into the mayhem.

Doctors and nurses at the Trad Hospital in Beirut rushed to remove shrapnel and shards of glass from hundreds of wounded people. But the tiny 60-bed hospital was quickly overwhelmed.

"I've never seen something like this," the surgeon told NBC News. "We were never prepared for something this big."

With more than 200 injured casualties flowing into the private hospital immediately after Tuesday's catastrophic explosion, Melki called the aftermath of the blast "apocalyptic."

The doctor now fears a shortage of medical supplies and the lingering coronavirus, dismayed that swaths of his city have been destroyed.

"We went through years of wars...I've never, ever seen such destruction," he said. "I don't know how people are going to rebuild ... we are really numb."

As the resilient capital of more than 2 million — which for years has hosted refugees from neighboring countries and been no stranger to war — tries to pick up the pieces, the death toll rose to at least 137 on Thursday with 5,000 injured, officials said, with numbers likely to climb.

As the dust settles on the city still reeling from Tuesday's colossal explosion, sadness is turning to anger and fingers are being pointed at the beleaguered government already grappling with spiraling economic and political crises.

"The people demand the fall of the regime," chanted hundreds protesting in the Mar Mikhael downtown area on Thursday, calling for "revolution," as they lay blame for the catastrophe on what they see as the state's negligence.

French President Emmanuel Macron was mobbed by angry crowds as he arrived in Beirut on Thursday to meet with political leaders, in the European country's former colonial protectorate.

Yelling at Macron in English, one woman accused him of meeting with "warlords" and said political leaders had failed the population during the crisis.

"They did this to us!" she shouted. "We are the ones who are building Lebanon...no one cares about us."

Shaking hands and hugging members of the crowd, Macron said he had come to deliver some "home truths." Adding, that French aid would not go to "corrupt hands" and that he would seek a new deal with political authorities.

"If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink," he told the crisis-hit country.

"This explosion should be the start of a new era."

Lebanese officials have promised investigations and accountability after an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stockpiled at the city's port in a densely populated neighborhood. The chemical compound, which is commercially available, is often used in fertilizers and explosives.

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Massive explosion rocks Beirut

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BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 4: Smoke rises after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. A large number of people were reportedly injured in the blasts, while former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri -- who lives near the area of the explosions -- is said to be unharmed, according to initial reports. (Photo by Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A wounded man is evacuated by boat following of an explosion near the the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A wounded man is evacuated by boat following of an explosion near the the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Lebanese army soldier runs at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

People gather by cars destroyed following an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

People gather by cars destroyed following an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 4: A damaged car is seen after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. A large number of people were reportedly injured in the blasts, while former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri -- who lives near the area of the explosions -- is said to be unharmed, according to initial reports. (Photo by Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This picture taken on August 4, 2020 shows a view of buildings damaged following an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 4: A damaged site is seen after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. A large number of people were reportedly injured in the blasts, while former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri -- who lives near the area of the explosions -- is said to be unharmed, according to initial reports. (Photo by Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on August 4, 2020 shows a general view of the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 4: People carry wounded people away from the site after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. A large number of people were reportedly injured in the blasts, while former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri -- who lives near the area of the explosions -- is said to be unharmed, according to initial reports. (Photo by Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 4: People gather around a damaged ship after a fire at a warehouse with explosives at the Port of Beirut led to massive blasts in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020. A large number of people were reportedly injured in the blasts, while former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri -- who lives near the area of the explosions -- is said to be unharmed, according to initial reports. (Photo by Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion near the the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 04: An elderly woman is helped while walking through debris after a large explosion on August 4, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. Video shared on social media showed a structure fire near the port of Beirut followed by a second massive explosion, which damaged surrounding buildings and injured hundreds. (Photo by Daniel Carde/Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows a destroyed silo at the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Wounded people walk near the site of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Firefighters evacuate a wounded man from the scene of an explosion at the port in Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by Anwar AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion at the port in Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A photo taken from Zaytouna Bay shows a red plume of fire behind a highrise in central Beirut just after a huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by Bassem EL HAGE / AFP) (Photo by BASSEM EL HAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion at the port in Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A picture shows the scene of an explosion at the port in Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Valarie Fakhoury, a British-Lebanese national, stands outside the emergency ward of a hospital in the Hamra district of central Beirut following a huge explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020. - A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, an AFP correspondent said. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city. (Photo by Janine HAIDAR / AFP) (Photo by JANINE HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Smoke billows following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A man helps another injured in the aftermath of an explosion along a street in the Hamra district of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. - A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, an AFP correspondent said. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city. (Photo by Janine HAIDAR / AFP) (Photo by JANINE HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images)

People gather near the scene of an explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020. - A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut today, an AFP correspondent said. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city. (Photo by Anwar AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

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Although some port officials have been placed under house-arrest, it is still unclear what exactly triggered the mighty explosion that flattened the area and sent a mushroom cloud of orange smoke across the city, blowing out windows and decimating homes — heard as far away as Cyprus.

"Those responsible will be held accountable whomever and wherever he is," Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told reporters Wednesday after he inspected the port, adding that the investigation will take a maximum of five days.

Others, including former prime ministers, have called for an international investigation led by the United Nations or Arab League, the Lebanese news agency reported, as the country enters a two-week state of emergency.

France has also sent humanitarian aid along with the U.S., Qatar and Israel. Condolences have poured in from world leaders including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Francis. While the German foreign office confirmed on Thursday that a German embassy staff member had died as a result of the explosion.

At least one U.S. citizen has been killed, and several more injured, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said Wednesday, adding that all U.S. personnel in Beirut were safe and accounted for.

Abbie Cheeseman reported from Beirut, Adela Suliman and Susan Archer from London. Reuters contributed to this report.

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