A massive explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut has killed at least 73 people, left thousands more injured and wreaked devastation on the city.
The country’s health minister said more than 3,700 have been wounded following the blast at the city’s industrial port, where hazardous chemicals are stored in warehouses.
Dramatic footage from around 6pm local time shows smoke billowing from the harbour 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.’
Lebanon’s interior minister said ammonium nitrate had been stored in the unit since 2014, with experts agreeing that the chemical would cause the red plume of smoke which burst up from the blast.
Local media are reporting that 2,700 tonnes of the chemical exploded, causing a ‘strange smell’ at the port which has led officials to instruct civilians to leave for fear of any harmful toxins.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed in a televised address that ‘those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,’ and declared Wednesday a day of national mourning.
A massive explosion has rocked Beirut this afternoon destroying buildings and sending a huge fireball into the sky
Dramatic footage shows smoke billowing from the port area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes into the sky and blankets the city in a thick mushroom cloud
Wounded people are treated at a hospital following the explosion, which has left hundreds of casualties in Beirut today
It lay waste to the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames this evening, and even wreaked havoc on districts miles away from the blast site
Fires continue to burn at the industrial port late into the night in Beirut following the deadly blasts
Medics shift an injured person from Najjar Hospital to another hospital in Al-Hamra area in Beirut after several hospitals were damaged in the blast
Lebanon’s PM vows those behind explosions will ‘pay the price’
Lebanon’s prime minister vowed Tuesday that those responsible for two massive blasts in Beirut’s port, which killed at least 50 people and injured thousands, would be held to account.
‘What happened today will not pass without accountability. Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,’ Hassan Diab said in a televised address.
Diab also appealed for international assistance to help Lebanon, which is already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.
‘I am sending an urgent appeal to all countries that are friends and brothers and love Lebanon, to stand by its side and help us treat these deep wounds,’ the prime minister said.
A senior security official said earlier that the explosions that shook the entire capital could be due to ‘explosive materials’ confiscated and stored in a warehouse ‘for years’.
Diab in his speech promised announcements about ‘this dangerous warehouse that has been in existence for six years, since 2014’.
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 Britain, France and several Gulf nations in offering aid to Lebanon, which is in the grip of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
The UK Foreign Office has said a few of its embassy staff sustained non-life threatening injuries in the blast.
Miles from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down, ceiling collapsed and windows were shattered.
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.’
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said the explosion started as small explosions like firecrackers before he was suddenly thrown off his feet by the huge blast.
Images showed port buildings reduced to tangled masonry, devastating the main entry point to a country that relies on food imports to feed its population of more than six million.
Several of Beirut’s hospitals were damaged in the blast, with Roum Hospital putting out a call for people to bring it spare generators to keep its electricity going as it evacuated patients because of heavy damage.
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.
Outside the St George University Hospital in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighbuorhood, 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.
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.’
Footage shows a thick column of smoke rising from the port before an explosion sends a fireball into the sky
A general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large explosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut
An injured man is seen in Beirut following the explosion
A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4
Glass is shattered by the explosion at the Cavalier Hotel in Beirut following the explosion
Pictures shows the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, which lay waste to surrounding buildings
Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut
Explosion rocks Lebanon during time of deep economic turmoil
The explosion comes amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Late last year investigators revealed what was effectively a state-sponsored pyramid scheme being run by the central bank, which was borrowing from commercial banks at above-market interest rates to pay back its debts and maintain the Lebanese pound’s fixed exchange rate with the US dollar.
In January mass protests against the corruption allegations and a faltering economy led to the fall of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government.
His predecessor , Independent Hassan Diab, cut the country’s budget by $700million and put in place a financial rescue plan a month later.
But Lebanon’s problems have persisted after the Covid-19 pandemic forced global border closures, and protests have returned after the Lebanese pound fell in value, despite a lockdown being imposed in March.
Many businesses have been forced to close, but as prices continue to rise with a devalued currency some are struggling to buy basic necessities, and the prime minister warned that Lebanon was at risk of a ‘major food crisis’.
Analysts suggest the crisis has been prolonged because of political sectarianism, with the president, prime minister and speaker split between the three largest cultural groups; Christians; Shia Muslim; and Sunni Muslims.
Parliament is also drawn down the middle between Christian and Muslim members.
With the country’s governance in need of unity between the competing groups, external powers have been able to interfere in the country. Iran, for instance, backs the militant Hezbollah Shia movement.
Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east).
And in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island lying 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.
U.N. 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 U.N. personnel.
‘We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether its accidental or manmade act,’ he said.
For a long time after the blast, ambulance sirens sounded across the city and helicopters hovered above.
Boris Johnson offered to help the crisis-hit country, tweeting: ‘The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking.
‘All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident. The UK is ready to provide support in any way we can, including to those British nationals affected.’
Offers of aid also came from bitter rivals Israel, with which it is still technically at war. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government – via international intermediaries – medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance,’ said a joint statement from the two ministries.
Last week, Israel accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of trying to send gunmen across the UN-demarcated Blue Line and said it held the Lebanese government responsible for what it termed an attempted ‘terrorist’ attack.
Hezbollah said all of the country’s political powers must unite to overcome the ‘painful catastrophe’.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France stood ‘alongside Lebanon’ and was ready to help, tweeting: ‘France stands and will always stand by the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It is ready to provide assistance according to the needs expressed by the Lebanese authorities.
Iran’s foreign minister has said it is standing by to help Lebanon recover from the fallout of the explosion.
Countries in the Gulf paid tribute to victims of the explosion as Qatar said it would send field hospitals to support Lebanon’s medical response.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani called President Michel Aoun to offer condolences, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.
Sheikh Tamim wished ‘a speedy recovery for the injured,’ adding that he ‘expressed Qatar’s solidarity with brotherly Lebanon and its willingness to provide all kinds of assistance’.
Firefighters douse a blaze at the city’s port tonight following the deadly explosion which has wreaked devestation on Beirut
Smoke billows from harbor area with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor of Beirut
The thick plume of smoke looms over the city of Beirut on Tuesday evening after the explosion at the port
A view shows the damages entrance of a store in Burj Abu Haidar area in Beirut
Israel among the countries to offer bomb-struck Beirut humanitarian aid
In a televised message this evening, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on all ‘friendly and brotherly countries to stand by Lebanon’, hours after the bomb blast which tore through downtown Beirut, killing dozens, wounding thousands, and destroying countless buildings in the city centre.
Among those to answer the call were Iran, Britain and France.
Israel, whom Lebanon is still technically at war with, also offered their support.
‘Following the explosion in Beirut, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government – via international intermediaries – medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance,’ said a joint statement from the two ministries.
The offer comes after two weeks of heightened tensions between the rival neighbours, with a series of border clashes between the Israeli Defence Forces and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern frontier.
Israel accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of trying to send gunmen across the UN-demarcated Blue Line and said it held the Lebanese government responsible for what it termed an attempted ‘terrorist’ attack.
Hezbollah and Israel last fought a 33-day war in the summer of 2006.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that ‘our hearts are with Beirut and its people’.
He posted the tribute alongside an image of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, illuminated in the colours of the Lebanese flag.
‘Our prayers during these difficult hours are that God… protects brotherly Lebanon and the Lebanese to reduce their affliction and heal their wounds,’ he wrote.
Gulf countries including Qatar and the UAE maintain close ties with Beirut and have long provided financial aid and diplomatic assistance to mediate Lebanon’s political and sectarian divisions.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry urged its nationals in Lebanon to contact the ministry’s operations centre or Manama’s representative in Beirut, while Kuwait ordered its citizens to take extreme caution and stay indoors.
It comes just days before a United Nations tribunal is set to rule on the assassination of the country’s former PM Rafik Hariri.
The house of his son, Saad Hariri, who also led the country, was damaged by the blast but he was confirmed safe.
Save the Children said in a statement that members of their team on the ground in the city have reported entire streets destroyed and children unaccounted for.
Despite the charity’s offices in the city being badly damaged, they have pledged that a rapid response team is ready to offer support.
Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s country director in Lebanon, said: ‘We are shocked and devastated by the explosion today.
‘The death toll may not be known for several days but we do know is that in a disaster like this, children may be hurt, shocked and separated from their parents.
‘Our child protection teams are ready to support the government’s efforts, which will almost certainly go on for several days to come.
‘It is vital that children and their families get access to the services they urgently need, including medical care and physical and emotional protection.’
He added: ‘The incident could not have occurred at a worst time and has hit communities who were already suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the economic deterioration.
‘Beirut’s main port, now completely damaged, is vital for much of the food, grains and fuel that Lebanon imports, and families will immediately feel the shortage in basic needs as a result of this tragedy.’
A car if left flipped on its roof on a motorway as a result of the devastating impact of the explosion earlier today
A mobile phone image showing a general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large exoplosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut
People on the street in Beirue which is strewn with debris from damaged buildings following the explosion
The loud blast in Beirut’s port area was felt across large parts of the city and some districts lost electricity
The health minister told Reuters there was a ‘very high number’ of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded
Witnesses have reported bystanders injured by falling debris from buildings and shards of glass flying towards people after the shockwave smashed out windows
A wounded man walks near the scene of an explosion in Beirut
A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut today. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city
Lessons from history: Some of the worst industrial accidents from the last two decades
Tianjin, China – Container storage explosion
On August 12, 2015, a series of explosions killed approximately 173 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station in the city’s port.
Responders to initial reports of a fire at the site were not able to bring the blaze under control because, unknown to the firefighters, vast amounts of sodium cyanide and other chemicals which react with water were being stored at the site.
There were two initial explosions within 30 seconds of each other at the facility, the second of which was far larger because it was the result of 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploding.
Fires at the site, which released tonnes of harmful substances into the air, were left uncontrolled due to the sheer scale of the explosion.
Of the 173 fatalities, 104 were firefighters.
On August 12, 2015, a series of explosions killed approximately 173 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station in the city’s port
Gazipur, Bangladesh – A boiler explosion
During a restart of equipment on July 3, 2017, following a 10-day shutdown for Eid, Multifabs Limited confirmed that there garments factory boiler exploded, collapsing a section of its multi-story factory in the district of Gazipur on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Worringly, the company was quoted as saying some 50 people were inside the building while the six-year-old boiler was having maintenance work done to it.
Over the next 24 hours, rescuers found seven bodies in rubble, and three other victims died in hospital. The death toll would remained at 10.
‘I heard a big bang when I was having tea outside,’ factory driver Hafiz Mostafa said, as dozens thronged the factory site and firefighters moved rubble in search of missing persons. ‘I saw windows, doors, glasses, machinery and a section of the wall of the building go flying.’
‘The boiler was running well,’ Mahiuddin Faruqui, Multifab’s chairman told Reuters at the time. ‘After servicing when workers were trying to restart it, it went off.’
Cyprus navy base – Munitions dump blast
In one of the worst defence industry disasters this century, 13 people, including the head of the Cypriot navy, a navy base commander and six firefighters were killed by a blast at a munitions dump which knocked out the island’s biggest power station.
Firefighters were called to the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast of the island on 11 July, 2011, to tackle a blaze at the dump, which burned for about an hour before causing the explosion.
The blast almost levelled the nearby Vassilikos power plant, which produces nearly 60 percent of the island’s energy, damaged buildings in nearby villages and rained metal on a motorway. All the victims were Cypriots.
The country’s defense minister and army chief quit hours after the explosion at the dump, which held confiscated Iranian armaments. A government spokesman ruled out sabotage.
The blast wounded 62 people, shredded the outer walls of two multi-storey buildings and shook olive groves and farming villages for miles around the base.
‘My tractor jumped about half a meter in the air,’ said farmer Nicos Aspros, who was tilling his field at the time of the blast. ‘There isn’t a house in the community which hasn’t been damaged.’
Firefighters were called to the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast of the island on 11 July, 2011, to tackle a blaze at the dump, which burned for about an hour before causing the explosion
Lagos, Nigeria – Armoury explosion
The armoury explosion was the result of an accidental detonation of a large stock of military high explosives at a storage facility in the Nigerian capital on 27 January 2002.
The fires created by the debris from this explosion burnt down a large section of Northern Lagos, and created a panic that spread to other areas.
Also thrown up by the blast were thousands of as yet unexploded military munitions, which fell in a rain of exploding shells, grenades and bullets casting further destruction across most of the northern section of the city.
As people fled the flames, many stumbled into a concealed Ejigbo canal and drowned.
The explosion and its aftermath are believed to have killed at least 1,100 people and displaced over 20,000, with many thousands injured or homeless.
The government of Nigeria launched an enquiry, which blamed the for failing to properly maintain the base, or to decommission it when instructed to do so in 2001.
Enschede, Netherlands – Fireworks disaster
The city of Enschede was built up around the SE Fireworks depot, the only one in the Netherlands to be located in a residential area.
On 13 May, 2000, firefighters were tackling a small fire at the warehouse when the explosion ripped through the building sending debris and fireworks into the air.
Unaware of the oncoming disaster, locals had been watching the firefighters tackle the blaze – and at least one was filming the fire – when the factory exploded.
The first explosion had a strength of 800kg TNT equivalence. However the majority of the damage was caused by the last explosion which had a strength within the range of 4000–5000kg TNT equivalent.
A total of 400 homes were destroyed and 1500 buildings damaged. The blasts killed 23 people including four firefighters, and injured nearly 1,000 people.
One week prior to the explosion, SE had been audited. The company was judged to have met all official safety regulations while the legally imported fireworks had been inspected by Dutch authorities and deemed safe.
Dutch firefighters continued to work in harsh conditions, and with the help of German firefighters from a town a short distance over the border, the blaze was put out by the end of the day.
On 13 May, 2000, firefighters were tackling a small fire at the warehouse when the explosion ripped through the building sending debris and fireworks into the air