(TMU) – The Lebanese capital city of Beirut is reeling after at least one massive explosion followed by a tremendous shockwave left dozens of buildings damaged, at least 3,000 injured and 50 people killed, according to Lebanon’s health minister.
Local officials have debunked initial reports that the huge blast late Tuesday afternoon was caused by an accident at a fireworks factory. The precise cause of the blast remains yet to be determined.
Lebanese internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim has said that the blast came from a section of the port where a warehouse of high-explosive materials including ammonium nitrate was located.
Wednesday has been declared a day of mourning throughout Lebanon.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed that anyone found responsible for the blasts at the warehouse will be held accountable.
Videos of the explosion shared to social media show a number of small explosions and a column of smoke rising in the air before a gigantic fireball bursts upward, followed by a much larger explosion that sent a huge shockwave through the surrounding area as well as a mushroom cloud into the air. Social media users as far as Cyprus reportedly felt the tremors of the gigantic blast.
Huge blast in Beirut just now! pic.twitter.com/hId8JhZMKV
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 4, 2020
— Nader Itayim | نادر ایتیّم (@ncitayim) August 4, 2020
City Governor Marwan Abboud has described the city as a “disaster area” and the scale of destruction as “enormous,” while medical and security sources have confirmed at least 10 people are dead.
Abboud wept before cameras about the fate of first responders who arrived at the fire before the explosion ripped through the port and impacted the surrounding high-rise hotels, apartment complexes, and office buildings.
“They came to fight the fire, and then they vanished,” Abboud said. “We don’t know where they are. We’re here to look for them.
“This reminds me of what happened in Japan, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he added. “I’ve never seen damage of this size and width, and so catastrophic. This is a national catastrophe. This is a problem for Lebanon, and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it.
“This is a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot all at once for people.”
— SECRETARY♠️ACE™ (@SecretaryAce) August 4, 2020
Health Minister Hamad Hasan has said that there are a number of injuries and extensive damage resulting from the explosion, which scattered destroyed cars across the nearby highway.
An unknown number of people are also trapped under the rubble of buildings that collapsed as a result of the blast. Hospitals have reportedly been overwhelmed by hundreds of casualties, with at least one hospital being forced to treat patients in an outdoor parking lot.
An AFP correspondent reports that every shop in the Hamra commercial district has sustained damage, with entire shopfronts smashed, windows shattered and cars destroyed.
Hospitals overwhelmed after Beirut explosion. In Geitawi, medical staff treating patients in a parking lot. pic.twitter.com/xwC3eBn49r
— Abby Sewell (@sewella) August 4, 2020
Footage from the inside of the Daily Star building in downtown Beirut show the offices of the newspaper utterly destroyed, with the ceiling of the complex collapsed in, windows shattered, and debris strewn across the floor.
BREAKING: Massive explosion in Beirut. Footage from the daily star office now in Lebanon pic.twitter.com/2uBsKP5wCH
— Ghada Alsharif (@GhadaaSharif) August 4, 2020
“We live 10 KM away from the explosion site and the glass of our [buildings] got shattered,” tweeted Abir Ghattas, a Europe-based activist who shared footage sent to her by her brother in Beirut.
“All the buildings in my block are destroyed. Huge explosion in [Beirut].” Everyone covered in glass and blood,” tweeted France 24 correspondent Leila Molana-Allen. “My apartment in Beirut was just blown apart.”
Looks like lots of minor crackling explosions preceding the big blast. Local media reports fireworks storage. Unclear for now. pic.twitter.com/pzYp34qogG
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 4, 2020
The explosion in the Mediterranean city comes at an extremely sensitive time, as locals brace themselves for the verdict in the trial of the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Four members of the Shia Islamist militant group Hezbollah have been accused of carrying out the car bombing of Hariri, an act which the Iran-allied group vociferously denies.
#BREAKING A massive explosion has rocked a port in Beirut
Posted by Meteorologist Brad Sowder on Tuesday, August 4, 2020
The United Nations tribunal trying the case is due to issue its verdict over the killing on Friday. The UN and Lebanon established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague in 2007, which ultimately charged Hezbollah with acts of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.
However, the political party with its own formidable armed militia has dismissed the trial as biased and catering to the will of hostile forces.
Media reports indicate that a possible second explosion is said to have taken place at the Hariri residence in the city.
Moment that the second explosion hit #Beirut Lebanon. Many houses damaged, injuries reported.
First was at Port. This is closer to downtown pic.twitter.com/6DdmgQFriD
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) August 4, 2020
The deadly explosion also comes after the resistance group was allegedly involved in small clashes with Israeli forces near the disputed Shebaa Farms region of Lebanon, which Israeli occupying forces captured during the 1967 war. Hezbollah officials accuse the Israelis of “fabricating” the clashes, however, as a means to kick up tension and cast the group as aggressors.
It IS speculative to suggest Israel may be involved in starting the fire at this warehouse where the gov claims "highly explosive material including ammonium nitrate " is stored at Beirut port.
It IS also wrong not to investigate Israel's plausible involvement, given threats.
— Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (@ASE) August 4, 2020
Israeli officials have denied any role in the explosion.
Sources close to Hezbollah have also denied social media rumors that an Israeli airstrike was the cause of the explosion, which they called groundless and have not been reported by officials in the region or authoritative media sources.
The deadly incident also comes as the Arab country remains locked in a dire economic crisis, with authorities fearing the rekindling of old sectarian and confessional rivalries as well as the prospect of widespread hunger in the streets. Protesters were already clashing with security forces on Tuesday prior to the deadly explosion.
Some Lebanese citizens have taken to social media to express outrage and are blaming the government for its perceived negligence and corruption, which they see as responsible for the traumatic blast.
The indefinite closure of the Beirut Port is likely to severely impact the country’s finances as it braces itself for the worst crisis to engulf the region in decades.