A huge explosion shook Beirut, destroying most of the port, damaging buildings around the capital, and sending a giant mushroom cloud to the sky. Officials said at least 50 people were killed and 2,700 bodies were injured under the rubble.
Hours later, ambulances were still transporting the wounded, and officials said Beirut’s hospitals were full. Army helicopters helped fight raging fires at the port.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.
Abbas Ibrahim, head of the Lebanese Public Security, said it may have been caused by high explosive materials that had been seized from a ship some time ago and stored in the port. The local LBC television channel said the substance was sodium nitrate.
An Israeli government official said Israel had “nothing to do” with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on “foreign reports”.
The explosion was amazing even in a city that witnessed civil war, suicide bombings, and Israeli bombing. It can be heard and felt even after Cyprus, more than 200 km (180 mi) across the Mediterranean.
“It was a real horror show,” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 meters from the port, and had inflicted it with the force of the explosion: “I have not seen anything like this since the days of the (civil) war.”
Emergency teams poured in from all over Lebanon to help the health care system already strained by the coronavirus. A Red Cross official, George Kettana, said that the injured people were taken to hospitals outside the capital because of an escort. He estimated the number of casualties in the hundreds, but said he had no exact figures for the dead or wounded.
Associated Press staff at the scene said that some of the wounded were lying on the ground at the port. A civil defense official said there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under the rubble.
Witnesses stated that they saw a strange orange cloud over the site after the explosion. The orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion that includes nitrates.
Initially, a video clip filmed by residents showed a fire burning in the harbor, which sent a huge plume of smoke, lit up with flashes of what appeared to be fireworks. Local TV stations reported that a fireworks store was involved.
Then it seemed that the fire was burning in a nearby building, which led to a more massive explosion, which led to a mushroom cloud and a shock wave.
Charbel Hajj, who works in the port, said that the explosion started in the form of small explosions, such as firecrackers. Then he said that he was thrown from his feet by the big bang. His clothes were torn.
Miles were torn apart from the harbor and building fronts, balconies were demolished and windows smashed. The streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with shattered cars. Motorcycle drivers chose their path through traffic, transporting the wounded.
A bloodied woman walked up from the waist up in a trash street while she was angrily speaking on her phone. On another street, a lady with a teared face looked horrific at traffic with two friends next to her.
“This country is cursed,” a young man passes.
The explosion came at a time when the Lebanese economy is facing a collapse, which has been struck by both the financial crisis and coronary virus restrictions. Many lost their jobs, while their savings evaporated as the currency depreciated against the dollar. The result left many in poverty.
It also occurred amid escalating tensions between Israel and Hezbollah along the southern border of Lebanon.
The explosion is reminiscent of the massive explosions during the Lebanese Civil War, and occurred just three days before a United Nations-backed court appointed to pass judgment on the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bombing more than 15 years ago. This explosion, along with many explosives, was felt within miles, like Tuesday’s.
Outside Saint George University Hospital in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, cars, and on foot. The explosion caused severe damage to the building and led to a blackout in the hospital. Dozens of wounded people were immediately treated on the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.
One of the doctors, on the condition of anonymity, said he was not authorized to make press releases: “This is a disaster we have on our hands.