Huge explosion rocks Beirut, injuring thousands across Lebanese capital
A massive explosion ripped through central Beirut on Tuesday, killing dozens of people, injuring thousands and blowing out windows in buildings across the city.
The blast near Beirut’s port sent up a huge mushroom cloud-shaped shockwave, flipping cars and damaging distant buildings. It was felt as far as Cyprus, hundreds of miles away, and registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake in the Lebanese capital.
At least 78 people were killed in the blast, Health Minister Hamad Hasan said, according to Reuters. He said at least 4,000 people have been wounded.
“There are many people missing until now,” Hasan said, according to Reuters. “People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity. We are facing a real catastrophe and need time to assess the extent of damages.”
There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port, according to Lebanese state news agency NNA.
The director of the general security directorate later said the blast was caused by “high explosive materials confiscated years ago,” but did not provide further details.
An investigation into the explosion was announced by Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab. The probe will include “revelations that will be announced about this dangerous warehouse which has been present since 2014,” he said, without providing any additional details.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported that authorities think a large amount of ammonium nitrate seized from a ship in 2013 or 2014 may have caused the blast.
The lethal blast “will not pass without accountability,” the Prime Minister said in a televised statement, adding that “those responsible will pay for what happened.”
A red cloud hung over the city in the wake of the explosion, which took place just after 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET), as firefighting teams rushed to the scene to try to put out the initial fire. Footage from the scene captured the injured staggering through streets in the capital; and ambulances, cars and military vehicles packed with the wounded. One resident said the scenes looked “like an apocalypse.”
At least 10 firefighters are missing, according to the city’s governor Marwan Abboud, who said the scene reminded him of “Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” “In my life I haven’t seen destruction on this scale,” Abboud said. “This is a national catastrophe.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at least one Australian was killed in the blast and the Australian Embassy building has been “significantly compromised.”
The blast comes at a tense time in Lebanon. On Friday, a UN-backed panel is expected to issue a verdict on the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a move many fear will stoke sectarian tensions. The country is also in the midst of an economic meltdown, with ballooning unemployment, a tanking currency and poverty rates soaring above 50%. Source