The Lebanese capital Beirut was hit by a colossal explosion Tuesday afternoon, killing dozens of people and injuring thousands of others as it unleashed a massive shockwave across the city.
The explosion caused widespread casualties, with an initial toll of 27 dead and some 2,500 wounded, according to Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan. The death toll is expected to rise further as rescue teams work their way through the rubble.
Videos of the blast, in the port area of the city, showed a thick column of smoke rising in the air, before a large fireball exploded, swiftly followed by a larger explosion, that sent a mushroom cloud into the sky.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud likened the scale of the destruction to «Hiroshima and Nagasaki».
«It resembles … what happened in Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s what reminds me of. In my life, I haven’t seen destruction on this scale,» he told reporters.
«This is a national catastrophe».
The cause of the blast was unclear. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency initially reported it was due to a major fire at a fireworks warehouse near the port, but Lebanon’s Director-General of Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, told Al Jazeera that the blast was caused by a highly explosive material that had been confiscated. Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said it appeared to have been caused by huge quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse.
Abboud, the Beirut governor, said at least 10 firefighters who were at the scene working to put out the fire were missing after the explosion at the site.
Hospitals in the city, inundated with victims of the blast, put out urgent calls for people to donate blood to help the injured. Doctors at one overwhelmed hospital were photographed treating patients in the parking lot.
TV footage from near the site of the blast showed scenes of devastation, with bloodied survivors staggering through the streets, roads strewn with rubble and broken glass, and buildings and cars damaged. VICE News producer Lama Al Arian, who was at the site of the explosion, said the area was covered with shattered glass, which continued to fall from buildings.
The country is also bracing for the verdict Friday in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, accused of orchestrating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut.
لحظة الانفجار في مرفأ بيروت. pic.twitter.com/qcVrl45PYz
— M.Majed محمد مجيد (@MohamadAhwaze) August 4, 2020
— Vince (@Vinnie22b) August 4, 2020