Explosion Rocks Beirut
At least 30 people have been killed and thousands are injured after a large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut as images showed a giant column of smoke rising over the city.
The most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years shook the ground, leaving some residents thinking an earthquake had struck.
The blast occurred in the city’s port area, where there were warehouses housing explosives, reports suggested. A security source told the Reuters news agency there were chemicals stored in the area.
In a televised remarks, the Lebanese health minister said more than 30 people had been killed and at least 3,000 people have been injured in the blast.
The Associated Press reported a civil defence official on the scene of the blast saying his men had evacuated dozens to hospitals and that there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris.
Footage of the blast shared by residents on social media showed a huge plume of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast. Those filming what initially appeared to be a big blaze were thrown backwards by the shock of the explosion.
Despite speculation online, there was no confirmation of what caused such a massive blast.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel had nothing to do with the blast.
Stunning video shows explosions just minutes ago at Beirut port pic.twitter.com/ZjltF0VcTr— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou) August 4, 2020
I am told this was a warehouse storing fireworks that blew up.— Rym Momtaz ريم ممتاز (@RymMomtaz) August 4, 2020
There were literally tons of fireworks there, so the explosion was gigantic and the impact radius felt across the city (glass in my own family’s homes in different parts of Beirut blew up). https://t.co/L6hfhOhBZT
“I have never in my life seen disaster this big, this grand, this catastrophic,” said Beiruit’s governor, Marwan Abboud, before he broke down crying.
“This is a national catastrophe. This a disaster for Lebanon. We don’t know how we’re going to recover from this. We need to stay strong and we need to be courageous, but this, our people have been through so much.”
One witness told the Reuters news agency: “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 Reuters witness said she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames of fire and black smoke: “All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.”
Lebanon’s health care system is already being outstretched by chronic underfunding and a surge in coronavirus cases. Doctors and nurses had already warned of a shortage of medical supplies, including anesthesia drugs and sutures, the AP reported last week. The American University of Beirut Medical Center, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Middle East, laid off hundreds of workers in recent weeks.
Lebanon is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, with its currency losing more than 80% of its value and unemployment soaring, pushing millions of people into poverty.
The crisis began last year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit: Lebanon has long relied on reserves of foreign currency, particularly the US dollar, for essential imports, but political leaders and banks failed to maintain that stock or to develop the economy to produce exports and earn money. The virus-related global economic slowdown further hurt Lebanon’s economy and slashed inflows of money from Lebanese working abroad who suddenly faced reduced circumstances.
Last fall, tens of thousands of protesters staged weeks of largely peaceful demonstrations against Lebanon’s ruling elite over their failure to deliver basic services and to prevent the financial crunch. Then-prime minister Saad Hariri resigned in response.