On Tuesday, a huge blast tore through central Beirut, killing hundreds of people, injuring thousands and blowing out windows in city-wide buildings.
The explosion near the port of Beirut sent a massive shockwave in the shape of a mushroom cloud, tossing cars and damaging distant buildings. It was felt hundreds of miles away as far as Cyprus, and reported in the Lebanese capital as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.
Health minister Hamad Hassan said at least 73 people were killed in the blast, according to national broadcaster TeleLiban. He previously told reporters that at least 2,750 people were injured.
According to Lebanese state news agency NNA, there were contradictory reports on what caused the blast, which was originally blamed on a massive fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port. The director of the directorate of general security later said the explosion was triggered by “high explosive materials seized years earlier,” but did not provide any further details.
Lebanese Premier Hassan Diab has declared an investigation into the blast. The investigation would include “revelations to be announced about this unsafe warehouse that has been around since 2014,” he said, without offering any further information.
The lethal explosion, he said in a televised statement, “does not pass without responsibility,” adding “those responsible must pay for what happened.”
In the wake of the blast, which happened just after 6 p.m., a red cloud hung over the area. Local time (11 a.m. ET), as firefighting units raced to the scene to attempt to put out the initial fire.it was revealed that the injured were walking through the capital ‘s streets; and the injured were lined with ambulances, automobiles and military vehicles. The scenes looked “like an apocalypse,” one eyewitness said.
According to Governor Marwan Abboud, who said the scene reminded him of “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” there are at least 10 firefighters missing. “I haven’t seen destruction on this scale in my life,” Abboud said. “It’s a Global Tragedy.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at least one Australian was killed in the explosion, and “significantly affected” the Australian Embassy building.
In Lebanon, the blast comes at a tense moment. A UN-backed tribunal is set to issue a verdict on former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri ‘s 2005 assassination on Friday, a development many fears would intensify sectarian tensions.
The nation is also in the midst of an economic crisis, with daring unemployment, a tank currency and higher poverty levels.
Beirut hospitals Tuesday mirrored the city’s turmoil as doctors made triages of hundreds of wounded people. Some had the limbs broken, others were showered with pieces of glass. Some patients had been unaware.
The victims are inundated in emergency rooms, whilst the Lebanese Red Cross on Twitter implored the public for donations of blood to aid the wounded. One of the main hospitals in Beirut, Hotel Dieu, has received about 400 wounded patients, a staff told CNN.
The Kataeb political party ‘s secretary-general, Nazar Najarian, died after being injured in the blast, NNA reported. When the blast occurred he was in his office.
Due to rumors of toxic gases emitted from the blast, the US Embassy in Beirut urged those in the region of the explosion to “keep indoors and wear masks, if appropriate.”
The explosion destroyed buildings across the area, including the Lebanon’s official residence, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s headquarters, and CNN ‘s downtown Beirut office. According to witnesses, homes as far as 10 kilometers away have been damaged and even people on the distant island of Cyprus have felt the explosion, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC). One Beirut resident who was several kilometers away from the blast site said the explosion had shattered her door. “I felt like it was an earthquake,” Rania Masri told CNN.
“The building rocked horizontally and all of a sudden it sounded like an earthquake and the windows and doors exploded open. The glass all shattered.
“In Beirut, you can see wounded people all over the streets, glass everywhere, cars are destroyed, it’s like an earthquake,” another resident, Bachar Ghattas said.
“What is happening right now is very, very frightening and people are freaking out. The emergency services are overloaded,” Ghattas told CNN. “Port Beirut is absolutely gone.”
World is mourning
In his televised statement Prime Minister Diab characterized the explosion as a “catastrophe.” He ended by “making an emergency appeal to all those countries who love this country to stand by us and help us heal our deep wounds.” World leaders shared their condolences in the wake of this tragedy.
Israel provided humanitarian medical aid to Lebanon — a significant move as Lebanon is one of a small number of countries that Israel considers as an enemy state. There have been no diplomatic relations since a truce concluded between the two countries in 1949.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended condolences and said, “We watch closely and stand ready to help the people of Lebanon recover from this tragedy.”
The United Kingdom, Turkey, Qatar and Spain were also among those countries that gave Lebanon their support.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called on his Lebanese counterpart Charbel Wahbeh to announce that “Jordanians stand in support of Lebanon and its Lebanese brothers and are prepared to give whatever assistance they need,” he said in a tweet.
French President Emmanuel Macron said “rescue and help” were on their way to Lebanon, while expressing solidarity with the “Lebanese citizens following the explosion that caused so many casualties and so much harm tonight in Beirut.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted that his country was ready “in every way possible” to support Lebanon.
“My heart go to the people of # Lebanon and to the families of the victims of the horrific # BeirutBlast,” European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet. “The EU stands ready to provide support and assistance.”
Dorothy Shea, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, expressed “heartfelt condolences” for the victims and their families after “witnessing the horrific explosions at the port,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Together with the Lebanese people, we are mourning every loss from this terrible tragedy,” the US Ambassador said.
Lebanese militant and political party Hezbollah said the explosion would need all Lebanese unity to resolve the tragedy.
“We put all our capabilities into serving as needed our honorable people and dear citizens,” hezbollah said in a statement.
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