A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the center of Beirut killed more than 80 people, injured over 4,000 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.
A massive explosion has ripped through Beirut, killing dozens of people and leaving hundreds injured.
At least 80 have been killed, with many more feared dead, and at least 4,000 have been injured, Health Minister Hamad Hassan told reporters outside a hospital.
Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble.
“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere - in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”
Hundreds of homes were left uninhabitable after the blasts ripped through a section of the Lebanese capital’s port.
Thousands of people sought treatment in nearby hospitals, which were struggling to cope with the casualties. Cars were left strewn across the surrounding highway, and the blast was heard up to 80km (50 miles) away in the country’s north. The health minister, Hamad Hassan, put the confirmed death toll at at least 50, with at least 2,700 injured.
"God help us from all these catastrophes," said Mamdouh, 25, a caterer who lost his job in June. “If this was an accident, as they’re saying, it’s the worst you could ever imagine. This was like a nuclear bomb. what have we done to deserve this? ”
Hours after the explosion, which took place at 6.05pm (1605 BST), the cause remained unclear. Israel denied responsibility and said it had offered humanitarian and medical aid.
Initial reports suggested that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The Lebanese security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, later blamed fuel chemicals stored in a warehouse. The interior minister, Mohammed Fahmi, said ammonium nitrate had been among the materials stored and called for an investigation into how it ignited.
"Talk of fireworks is ridiculous," said Ibrahim. “There are no fireworks but rather highly explosive material, and I can't foretell the investigations… it seems the explosion happened in a warehouse of highly explosive material that was confiscated years ago.”