Two large explosions rocked Beirut port Tuesday afternoon, killing at least 50 and injuring over 2,750, according to Lebanese authorities, with Lebanon’s Prime Minister calling the incident a “catastrophe.”
Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that there were more than 50 dead and 2,750 wounded so far from the earthquake-like blasts.
“What happened today is greater than the size of Lebanon in its current situation, and this disaster is a catastrophic challenge to the state,” Hassan said.
The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, although General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim indicated it originated in a depot of “highly explosive materials” at Beirut port. Televised footage of downtown Beirut and the port area show catastrophic damage to infrastructure and buildings. Smoke was still billowing over the area nearly four hours after the explosion, which occured shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), as ambulances continued to rush to the scene.
The explosion was reportedly heard as far as Cyprus, according to Cypriot media.
Ibrahim in a visit to the explosion site said, “We cannot rush the investigation but there seems to have been material stored years ago. The word ‘fireworks’ is laughable. There is high explosive material that had been seized long time ago.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said those responsible for the explosion would pay the price.
“I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability. … Those responsible will pay the price,” he said in a televised speech late Tuesday evening. “Details about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014 will be announced and I will not preempt the investigations,” he said.
He also appealed for aid from “friendly and brotherly countries and declared a national day of mourning Wednesday.
Among the dead was Nazar Najarian, the secretary general of Kataeb Party, according to local media. The director of Lebanon’s EDL, has also reportedly been injured. Many are thought to still be trapped in their homes.
Several hospitals, including the American Univertsity of Beirut Medical Center, said they had reached pull capacity and could not recieve more casualties. All hospitals and the Red Cross called for urgent blood donations.
Debris and glass covered the streets of Downtown Beirut. Cars and building windows were shattered. Electricity was completely shut off along Beirut’s Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael which suffered heavy damage to homes and properties.
“My apartment is completely gone,” Elie, 26, told The Daily Star. He lives in Beirut’s Gietawi, around 2 kilometers from Beirut’s port.
“The explosion was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I ducked to the ground, my ears were ringing. I didn’t know when it would stop,” Elie added.
“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,” another witness told Reuters.
Israeli officials said Israel, locked in a low intensity struggle with Hezbollah, had nothig to do with the explosion in Beirut.
French aid and resources are being sent to Lebanon to help it recover from the deadly bomb blast that flattened large parts of Beirut Tuesday and killed dozens, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
“I express my fraternal solidarity with the Lebanese after the explosion that claimed so many victims and damaged so much this evening in Beirut,” Macron tweeted.
“France stands alongside Lebanon. Always. French aid and resources are being dispatched to the site.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also expressed his support, tweeting: “France is always on the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese people. It is ready to offer assistance depending on the needs expressed by Lebanese authorities.”
Gulf countries paid tribute to victims hours after the blast. Qatar said it would send field hospitals to support Lebanon’s medical teams.
United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash in a tweet said “our hearts are with Beirut and its people.”
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what the cause was, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any UN personnel.
“We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether it’s accidental or manmade act,” he said.
The US Pentagon said: “We are aware of the explosion and are concerned for the potential loss of life due to such a massive explosion.”
The State Department is closely following reports of an explosion in Beirut and stands ready to offer ‘all possible assistance’, a spokesperson for the agency said. France also declared Tuesday evening that they were ready to provide assistance in any way Lebanese authorities deem necessary.
The State Department has no information about the cause of the explosion, the spokesperson said and added that the agency is working closely with local authorities to determine if any US citizens were affected in the incident.
Iran’s top diplomat also expressed Tehran’s support for the “resilient” people of Lebanon.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the great and resilient people of Lebanon,” Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.