Huge explosion shakes Beirut’s port, dozens dead, thousands injured

A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky, news wires reported. There were hundreds of casualties, with bodies buried under the rubble, officials said. Hamad Hassan, Lebanon's health minister, gave an initial toll of 27 dead and some 2,500 wounded. The death toll was expected to rise.

Hours later, ambulances were still carrying away the wounded and officials said Beirut’s hospitals were full. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port. Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said the injured were being taken to hospitals outside the capital because facilities there were at capacity. He put the number of casualties in the hundreds but said he did not have exact figures on dead or injured. Some of those injured lay on the ground at the port, Associated Press staff at the scene said. A civil defense official said there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known. Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate. Witnesses reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.

Miles from the port, building facades were shredded, balconies were knocked down and windows shattered. Streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with wrecked cars.

The blast came at a time when Lebanon’s economy is facing collapse, hit both by a financial crisis and coronavirus restrictions. Many have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the dollar. The result has thrown many into poverty.

It also occurred amid rising tensions between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group along Lebanon’s southern border. An Israeli government official said Israel “had nothing to do” with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on “foreign reports.”

 

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