Al Wakrah (Qatar) (AFP) - Qatar began flying field hospitals and medical aid to Beirut Wednesday, AFP correspondents saw, to ease pressure on Lebanon's strained medical system after the previous day's devastating explosions.
Crews at Qatar's Al-Udeid airbase loaded collapsible beds, generators and burn sheets onto an Emiri Air Force C17 cargo plane, which subsequently took off for Lebanon.
It was one of four due to fly from the Gulf to the Mediterranean country Wednesday.
Officers estimated at least 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilogrammes) of aid would be flown on the inaugural flight, with two hospital units equipped with up to 550 beds due in Beirut by day's end.
Tens of thousands of people were left homeless and thousands more crammed into Beirut's overwhelmed hospitals for treatment following Tuesday's catastrophic incident.
Qatar's ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said on Tuesday that he spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun in the wake of the explosions at Beirut's port and offered the medical aid.
Qatar was ready "to provide immediate support following the explosion at the port," he tweeted.
Workers placed personal protective equipment kits on the seats of crew bound for Rafic Hariri airport in Beirut, which was already in the midst of a medical crisis amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
"If there's news about humanitarian stuff, there's a high probability we'll be on one of the flights," said one of the pilots on the first of the aid relays to Lebanon from behind the controls of the Globemaster aircraft.
Around him crew and loadmasters secured the frames that will form the field hospitals that Lebanese media reported will be erected at strategic points around the capital Beirut.
Pilots at Al-Udeid, the largest airstrip in the Middle East and also the United States' biggest airbase in the region, have been involved in COVID-19 relief flights in recent months.
Gas-rich Qatar has sent extensive medical aid to its allies including China and Italy throughout the coronavirus pandemic as it uses its logistical clout and deep pockets to cement diplomatic ties.
Commanding officers "started calling last night, giving orders to prepare. It's not a normal flight, but it's part of the job," said a second pilot on the first flight to leave.