BEIRUT — Aug. 4, 2020: A blast at the port of this Lebanese capital has killed at least 27 people and injured more than 2,500 others.
It is not yet clear what caused the explosion but videos posted online showed a column of smoke followed by a large mushroom cloud. Many buildings as far as some kilometres away have either been destroyed or badly damaged.
The blast happened in an area housing highly explosive materials.
Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit the city in years, making the ground tremble.
“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”
Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 pm (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.
Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble. A witness described the first explosion as deafening, and video footage showed wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings.
President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defence Council, the presidency said on Twitter.
The blast was so big that some residents thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and, wounded, people walked through streets searching for relatives.
Initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. A minister said ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.
According to Wikipedia, since 1916 there have been 30 known explosions involving ammonium nitrate, with the one in Oppau, Germany, in September 1921 killing 561 people and then another in Texas City in 1947 killing 581 people.