A massive explosion rocked the capital city of Lebanon in Tuesday, sending wreaths of mushroom-cloud shaped smoke in the air, blowing out windows across the city, and initiating a 3.3 magnitude earthquake in the area, multiple media reports confirm.
The huge blast happened at a building in central Beirut, where some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – a highly explosive material – was being stored in the building for years without safety measures, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Hassan Diab said, CNN reports.
Initial local media reports said the explosion was caused from stored firecrackers at a warehouse in the area, which was later confirmed otherwise, given the magnitude of the blast.
It is still unclear what caused the fire.
Lebanese Prime Minister Diab vowed to punish the offenders. “I will not rest until we find those responsible for what happened, hold them accountable, and impose maximum punishment,” he said.
Eyewitnesses said they noticed a red cloud floating in the air in the aftermath of the blast. Firefighters rushed into the scene to control the flame.
The blast was so extensive and intense, effects were felt up to 250-kilometres away. In a radius of 10 km windows in local houses blew up and cars were apparently flipped in some cases, social media posts confirm.
Instantly, heartbreaking images of wounded and bloodied victims started to spread on social media. It remains unclear, how many people have been injured.
In the neighbouring island of Cyprus, 250-kilometres away, people reported they felt the explosion from their homes in Cyprus.
“The apartment shook horizontally, and all of a sudden it felt like an explosion and the windows and doors burst open. The glass just broke. So many homes were damaged or destroyed,” a resident told CNN.
“You can see injured people all over the streets in Beirut, glass all over the place, cars are damaged, it is like an apocalypse,” another eyewitness told.
CNN’s Beirut bureau was wrecked from the blast, the news agency reported. Soon after the blast, the city’s hospital scene became ‘chaotic’ as instantly it was not clear how many people lost life and injured were being rushed into the scene.
The New York Times noted the accidental detonation of ammonium nitrate in the past has caused a number of industrial accidents, including the worst in the US where a ship carrying ammonium nitrate caught fire in 1947 in the harbour of Texas City and the blast started a chain reaction of other blasts killing over 500.
Ammonium nitrate is actively used in pesticides and making bombs.
The blast reportedly shattered the city’s healthcare systems, both from the aftermath of the blast, and effects of the blast that sent damaging shockwaves in the city’s hospitals.
In one of the city’s biggest hospitals, glass windows shattered and ceiling in some room fell on patients, according to media reports.
Condolences poured in
“I’d like to extend my deepest condolences to all those affected by the massive explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4,” the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.
“We are monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this horrible tragedy.”
“Our thoughts are with those who have lost love ones. We wish the wounded a speedy recovery. We will offer Lebanon our help,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
“Terrible scenes out of Beirut after a major explosion. Our hearts go out to those caught up in this tragedy and to our Australian Lebanese community waiting to hear from their loved ones,” Australian PM Scott Morrisons tweeted.
The death toll of the blaze is likely to spike, given more and more people are being recovered and hospitalized. The incident gulped at least 10 fire fighters, who’re all missing. In minutes the central part of Beirut turned into a nightmarish land of dystopia.