- WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: The country’s health minster said the blast has left more than 4,000 injured
- Dramatic footage shows smoke billowing from the port area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes
- Lebanon’s interior minister said ammonium nitrate had been stored in warehouses at the port since 2014
- Blast was equivalent to around 3 kilotons of TNT, 20% the size of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima
- The explosion rattled shutters on homes in the Cypriot city of Larnaca, 125 miles across the Mediterranean
- It obliterated the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames overnight
- Security sources this morning claimed a welder had sparked the initial fire that in turn ignited the chemicals
One of the world’s biggest-ever peacetime explosions tore through the port in Beirut last night, killing at least 78 people, injuring thousands more and laying waste to a large part of the Lebanese capital.
More than 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, the main ingredient in fertilizer bombs, detonated when a fire apparently sparked by a welder spread to the warehouse where it had been stored for six years.
Apocalyptic scenes saw a thick red-orange mushroom cloud envelop streets surrounding the port, where buildings burned and emergency crews frantically searched the rubble for survivors.
Damaged hospitals were last night creaking under the strain of more than 4,000 casualties wounded by the blast, which was even heard 125 miles away in Cyprus.
Rescuers worked through the night into Wednesday morning in a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades.
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross said: ‘What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe. There are victims and casualties everywhere.’
In a statement released this morning the humanitarian agency said that more than 100 people had lost their lives.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed those responsible will ‘pay the price’ and plunged the country into a two-week state of emergency.
The United States, the UK, France, the Gulf states and even bitter rivals Israel have offered aid to the country, which is already grappling with twin economic and coronavirus crises.
Witnesses likened the explosion to a nuclear detonation, and scientists making initial calculations said the 2,750 tonnes of hazardous chemicals produced a blast equivalent to about three kilotons of TNT – roughly a fifth the force of the Little Boy atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in the Second World War.
President Michel Aoun declared three days of mourning, and announced he would release 100 billion lira ($66 million) of emergency funds.
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim earlier said the ‘highly explosive material’ had been confiscated years earlier, reportedly from a ship.
President Donald Trump last night called the explosion a ‘terrible attack’ and said US generals had told him it appeared to have been caused by a ‘bomb of some kind’, without offering evidence.
The U.S. embassy in Beirut warned residents in the city about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks if available.
Critical infrastructure was affected by the blast, including the port, the airport and hospitals.
Firefighters had already been on the scene dealing with an initial blaze when the explosion took place. One security source told Reuters today that the initial fire was caused during welding work on a hole in a warehouse wall.
That fire spread, and before firefighters could control it, apparently detonated the ammonium nitrate.
One Israeli bomb expert suggested fireworks could have been involved in the initial blaze.
Explosives certification expert Boaz Hayoun said: ‘Before the big explosion … in the center of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles. This is very specific behavior of fireworks.’
After the second, more devastating explosion, images showed port buildings reduced to tangled masonry, devastating the main entry point to a country that relies on food imports to feed its population of more than six million.
Charbel Haj, who works at the harbour, said the explosion started as small explosions like firecrackers before he was suddenly thrown off his feet by the huge blast.
The explosion damaged the Roum Hospital, which put out a call for people to bring it spare generators to keep its electricity going as it evacuated patients because of heavy damage.
Outside the St George University Hospital in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighbuorhood, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, in cars and on foot.
The explosion had caused major damage inside the building and knocked out the electricity at the hospital. Dozens of injured were being treated on the spot on the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.
Lebanon’s Red Cross said it had been drowning in calls from injured people, many who are still trapped in their homes.
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.
Beirut’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.
“Mom Please I don’t want to Die”
A Lebanese child in Beirut today 💔
— JISHAN. (@iamsrk_jishan) August 5, 2020
WARNING GRAPHIC: People were filmed receiving treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in #Beirut as the death toll climbs to 78 with 4,000 injured following a huge explosion on Tue. Lebanese PM declared a "national day of mourning" for the victims #PrayforLebanon pic.twitter.com/SOstsx8Wnu
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 5, 2020
This guy was easily 1.5 to 2 miles away!!
Rip to the person that captured this closeup. It was a livestream. This just so scary.#Beirut #بيروت #Lebanon #BeirutBlast #لبنان #Lebanese #PrayForBeriut #Israeli#PrayForLebanon#explosion pic.twitter.com/LU3cORVK7t
— Esra Bilgiç(Halima Sultan) (@Esra_Bilgic0) August 5, 2020
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.’
Post-explosion drone footage from #Beirut. Ashes.
Photo © AP Photo/Hussein Malla pic.twitter.com/lfnaQc7bmw
— Yaşıl eynəkli adam (@turalfot) August 5, 2020