Over 25 killed, hundreds hurt in huge blast in Beirut

  • Civilians carry a victim at the explosion scene that hit the seaport in Beirut on Tuesday. The blast blew out windows and doors across the Lebanese capital and was felt as far away as Cyprus, 180 miles away. AP PHOTO

  • An injured man walks at the explosion scene that hit the seaport, in Beirut Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • Wounded people are evacuated after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • Lebanese man helps an injured man who was wounded by an explosion that hit the seaport, in Beirut Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • A Lebanese soldier, right, checks injured men who sit inside an umbulance at the explosion scene that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • Smoke rises from a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • Lebanese security officers arrive at the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • People help a man who was wounded in a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - Rescue workers help an injured man at the explosion scene that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - An injured man waits for help at the explosion scene that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) Hussein Malla

  • People evacuate wounded after of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • Aftermath of a massive explosion is seen in in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • Soldiers evacuate injured people after Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut. AP PHOTO

Associated Press
Published: 8/4/2020 3:56:36 PM

BEIRUT — A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. The health minister said more than 25 people were killed and over 2,500 injured.

The huge blast blew out windows and doors across the capital and sent a giant mushroom cloud into the sky, burying uncounted bodies under the rubble, officials said.

Hours later, ambulances were still carrying away the wounded and officials said Beirut’s hospitals were full. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.

An Israeli government official said Israel “had nothing to do” with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on “foreign reports.”

The blast was stunning even for a city that has seen civil war, suicide bombings and bombardment by Israel. It could be heard and felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean.

“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war,” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 yards from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.

Emergency teams streamed in from across Lebanon to help a health care system already strained by the coronavirus. Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said the injured were being taken to hospitals outside the capital because facilities there were at capacity. He put the number of casualties in the hundreds but said he did not have exact figures on dead or injured.

Some of those injured lay on the ground at the port, Associated Press staff at the scene said. A civil defense official said there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris.

Witnesses reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.

Initially, video taken by residents showed a fire raging at the port, sending up a giant column of smoke, illuminated by flashes of what appear to be fireworks. Local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved.

The fire then appeared to catch at a nearby building, triggering a more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave.

Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said it started as small explosions like firecrackers. Then, he said, he was thrown off his feet by the huge blast. His clothes were torn.

Miles from the port, building facades were shredded, balconies were knocked down and windows shattered. Streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with wrecked cars. Motorcyclists picked their way through traffic, carrying the injured.

One woman covered in blood from the waist up walked down a trashed street while talking furiously on her phone. On another street, a woman with a bloodied face looked distraught, staggering through traffic with two friends at her side.

“This country is cursed,” a young man passing by muttered.

The blast came at a time when Lebanon’s economy is facing collapse, hit both by a financial crisis and coronavirus restrictions. Many have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the dollar. The result has thrown many into poverty.

It also occurred amid rising tensions between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group along Lebanon’s southern border.

The explosion was reminiscent of massive blasts during Lebanon’s civil war and took place only three days before a U.N.-backed tribunal was set to give its verdict in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bombing more than 15 years ago. That explosion, with a ton of explosives, was felt miles away, just like Tuesday’s explosion.

Outside the St. George University Hospital in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood, 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.

“This is a catastrophe we have on our hands,” said one doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make press statements.




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