A massive explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut has killed at least 30 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.
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 France and several Gulf nations in offering aid to Lebanon, which is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
Wounded people are treated at a hospital following the explosion, which has left hundreds of casualties in Beirut today
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.