BEIRUT – A powerful explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, destroying much of the port and damaging many buildings for miles around. At least 70 people have been killed and 3,000 others injured, and bodies are still stuck in the rubble, authorities said.
Several hours after the explosion, ambulances continued to transport the wounded and military helicopters battled the flames that still raged in the harbor.
Hospitals in Beirut, completely overwhelmed by the influx of victims, called on citizens to donate blood and demanded generators to ensure a continuous power supply.
The force of the explosion was comparable to a magnitude 3.5 earthquake, according to the German geoscience center GFZ. The blast was felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 200 kilometers from Beirut, in the Mediterranean.
The cause of the explosion, which caused fires, overturned cars and shattered windows and doors, was not immediately known.
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim has argued that it may have been caused by highly explosive substances seized some time ago from a ship and stored at the port. Lebanese channel LBC claimed it was sodium nitrate.
Residents reported seeing a strange orange cloud right after the blast, which could suggest an explosion involving nitrates.
“It was a real horror movie. I haven’t seen anything like it since the days of the civil war, ”said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 meters from the port and fell to the ground from the force of the explosion.
“A devastated city”
Health Minister Hassan Hamad announced a preliminary toll of more than 70 dead and at least 3,000 injured. Emergency teams from across the country were converging on Beirut to help the victims, and several injured had to be taken to hospitals outside the capital. The minister said hospitals were struggling to cope with the situation and that several friendly countries had offered to help.
The explosion rocked the entire Beirut region and thick smoke floated above the city. People living several kilometers from the port reported that their windows had shattered and balconies and ceilings had fallen.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud burst into tears as he walked around the scene. “Beirut is a devastated city,” he said.
In videos posted online, a large fire in the harbor could be seen dotted with flashes of light that resembled fireworks. TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was located nearby. The flames then appear to spread to a nearby building, setting off a powerful explosion that sent shockwaves through the city.
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, explained that it all started with small explosions similar to firecrackers, and then there was a powerful explosion that knocked him to the ground. His clothes were torn off by the blast of the blast.
The incident comes as Lebanon goes through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, and against a backdrop of growing tensions between Israel and Hezbollah along Lebanon’s southern border.
Bassem Mroué, The Associated Press