A massive explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut has killed at least 50 people, left thousands more injured and wreaked devastation on the city.
The country’s health minister said more than 3,000 have been wounded following the blast at the city’s industrial port, where warehouses are believed to contain explosive materials.
Dramatic footage from around 6pm local time shows smoke billowing from the waterfront area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes into the sky and blankets the city in a thick mushroom cloud.
Witnesses have stressed the sheer enormity of the blast, which was heard 125 miles away in Cyprus, and likened it to a ‘nuclear bomb’.
It obliterated the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames this evening, and even inflicted damage on districts miles away from the blast site.
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said: ‘It appears that there is a warehouse containing material that was confiscated years ago, and it appears that it was highly explosive material.’
Pointing to what appears to be fireworks shooting out of the smoke, experts said a combination of fireworks and highly flammable fertiliser could have sparked such an explosion.
Prime Minister Hasan Diab vowed in a televised address that ‘those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,’ and declared Wednesday a day of national mourning.
A massive explosion has rocked Beirut this afternoon destroying buildings and sending a huge fireball into the sky
Dramatic footage shows smoke billowing from the port area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes into the sky and blankets the city in a thick mushroom cloud
Wounded people are treated at a hospital following the explosion, which has left hundreds of casualties in Beirut today
It lay waste to the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames this evening, and even wreaked havoc on districts miles away from the blast site
Fires continue to burn at the industrial port late into the night in Beirut following the deadly blasts
Lebanon’s PM vows those behind explosions will ‘pay the price’
Lebanon’s prime minister vowed Tuesday that those responsible for two massive blasts in Beirut’s port, which killed at least 50 people and injured thousands, would be held to account.
‘What happened today will not pass without accountability. Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,’ Hassan Diab said in a televised address.
Diab also appealed for international assistance to help Lebanon, which is already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.
‘I am sending an urgent appeal to all countries that are friends and brothers and love Lebanon, to stand by its side and help us treat these deep wounds,’ the prime minister said.
A senior security official said earlier that the explosions that shook the entire capital could be due to ‘explosive materials’ confiscated and stored in a warehouse ‘for years’.
Diab in his speech promised announcements about ‘this dangerous warehouse that has been in existence for six years, since 2014’.
Israel has denied any involvement amid escalating tensions with the militant group Hezbollah along the country’s southern border.
It even joined other countries including Britain, France and several Gulf nations in offering aid to Lebanon, which is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
Miles from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down, ceiling collapsed and windows were shattered.
Beirut’s main airport, six miles away from the port, was reportedly damaged by the explosion, with pictures showing sections of collapsed ceiling.
The port’s governor told journalists he does not know the cause of the explosion and said he had never seen such destruction, comparing the sobering scenes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were obliterated by atomic bombs in the Second World War.’
Beirut’s Hotel Dieu Hospital was reported to be overwhelmed with more than 500 wounded patients and not able to receive more, while Lebanon’s Red Cross said it had been drowning in calls from injured people, many who are still trapped in their homes.
Local Fady Roumieh was stood in the car park to shopping centre ABC Mall Achrafieh, around 2km east of the blast, when the explosion occurred.
He said: ‘It was like a nuclear bomb. The damage is so widespread and severe all over the city. Some buildings as far as 2km are partially collapsed. It’s like a war zone. The damage is extreme. Not one glass window intact.’
One witness said: ‘I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street.’
Security forces ordered journalists to leave the port after a boat caught fire for fear that fuel on board the vessel could go up in flames.
Another witness said she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames of fire and black smoke.
They said: ‘All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.’
Another witness said: ‘I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street.’
Buildings are shaking,’ tweeted one resident, while another wrote: ‘An enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away.’
Footage shows a thick column of smoke rising from the port before an explosion sends a fireball into the sky
A general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large explosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut
An injured man is seen in Beirut following the explosion
A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4
Pictures shows the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, which lay waste to surrounding buildings
Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut
Explosion rocks Lebanon during time of deep economic turmoil
The explosion comes amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Late last year investigators revealed what was effectively a state-sponsored pyramid scheme being run by the central bank, which was borrowing from commercial banks at above-market interest rates to pay back its debts and maintain the Lebanese pound’s fixed exchange rate with the US dollar.
In January mass protests against the corruption allegations and a faltering economy led to the fall of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government.
His predecessor , Independent Hassan Diab, cut the country’s budget by $700million and put in place a financial rescue plan a month later.
But Lebanon’s problems have persisted after the Covid-19 pandemic forced global border closures, and protests have returned after the Lebanese pound fell in value, despite a lockdown being imposed in March.
Many businesses have been forced to close, but as prices continue to rise with a devalued currency some are struggling to buy basic necessities, and the prime minister warned that Lebanon was at risk of a ‘major food crisis’.
Analysts suggest the crisis has been prolonged because of political sectarianism, with the president, prime minister and speaker split between the three largest cultural groups; Christians; Shia Muslim; and Sunni Muslims.
Parliament is also drawn down the middle between Christian and Muslim members.
With the country’s governance in need of unity between the competing groups, external powers have been able to interfere in the country. Iran, for instance, backs the militant Hezbollah Shia movement.
Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east).
And in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island lying 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what the cause was, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any U.N. personnel.
‘We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether its accidental or manmade act,’ he said.
For a long time after the blast, ambulance sirens sounded across the city and helicopters hovered above.
Boris Johnson offered to help the crisis-hit country, tweeting: ‘The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking.
‘All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident. The UK is ready to provide support in any way we can, including to those British nationals affected.’
Offers of aid also came from bitter rivals Israel, with which it is still technically at war. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government – via international intermediaries – medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance,’ said a joint statement from the two ministries.
Last week, Israel accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of trying to send gunmen across the UN-demarcated Blue Line and said it held the Lebanese government responsible for what it termed an attempted ‘terrorist’ attack.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France stood ‘alongside Lebanon’ and was ready to help, tweeting: ‘France stands and will always stand by the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It is ready to provide assistance according to the needs expressed by the Lebanese authorities.
Iran’s foreign minister has said it is standing by to help Lebanon recover from the fallout of the explosion.
Countries in the Gulf paid tribute to victims of the explosion as Qatar said it would send field hospitals to support Lebanon’s medical response.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani called President Michel Aoun to offer condolences, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.
Sheikh Tamim wished ‘a speedy recovery for the injured,’ adding that he ‘expressed Qatar’s solidarity with brotherly Lebanon and its willingness to provide all kinds of assistance’.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that ‘our hearts are with Beirut and its people’.
He posted the tribute alongside an image of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, illuminated in the colours of the Lebanese flag.
‘Our prayers during these difficult hours are that God… protects brotherly Lebanon and the Lebanese to reduce their affliction and heal their wounds,’ he wrote.
Gulf countries including Qatar and the UAE maintain close ties with Beirut and have long provided financial aid and diplomatic assistance to mediate Lebanon’s political and sectarian divisions.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry urged its nationals in Lebanon to contact the ministry’s operations centre or Manama’s representative in Beirut, while Kuwait ordered its citizens to take extreme caution and stay indoors.
It comes just days before a United Nations tribunal is set to rule on the assassination of the country’s former PM Rafik Hariri.
The house of his son, Saad Hariri, who also led the country, was damaged by the blast but he was confirmed safe.
A car if left flipped on its roof on a motorway as a result of the devastating impact of the explosion earlier today
A mobile phone image showing a general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large exoplosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut
People on the street in Beirue which is strewn with debris from damaged buildings following the explosion
The loud blast in Beirut’s port area was felt across large parts of the city and some districts lost electricity
The health minister told Reuters there was a ‘very high number’ of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded
Witnesses have reported bystanders injured by falling debris from buildings and shards of glass flying towards people after the shockwave smashed out windows
A wounded man walks near the scene of an explosion in Beirut
A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut today. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city