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HomePoliticsWorldBeirut explosions kill 27, injure 2,500

Beirut explosions kill 27, injure 2,500

Beirut: Two enormous explosions rocked Beirut’s port on Tuesday, killing at least 27 people and wounding thousands, shaking distant buildings and leaving the Lebanese capital in fear and chaos.

After the first made a huge mushroom-like shape as seen in nuclear explosions, the second sent up an enormous orange fireball. It damaged the harbour while sending a shockwave through the city. It shattered windows miles away.

The dead and the barely surviving were rushed to hospitals amid debris strewn all around central Beirut. Health Minister Hamad Hassan reported initially an estimated toll of 27 dead and 2,500 injured. He called it “a disaster in every sense of the word”.

A soldier said, “It’s a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground.” Relatives of people who were in the area of maximum impact gathered at a security cordon, scrambling for news of their kin. “Ambulances are still lifting the dead,” the soldier said.

People in Nicosia on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 240 km away could hear the sound of the blasts. Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-70s, who has lived near the port for decades, said it was “like an atomic bomb”. “I’ve experienced everything, but nothing like this before,” even during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, she said. “All the buildings around here have collapsed. I’m walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark.”

The country’s Red Cross reported “hundreds of wounded” and called for urgent blood donations.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately known but a top official, general security chief Abbas Ibrahim, said confiscated explosive materials had been stored at the city’s port.

“It appears that there is a warehouse containing material that was confiscated years ago, and it appears that it was highly explosive material,” he said.

An Israeli government who requested anonymity told AFP: “Israel had nothing to do with the incident.”

Benjamin Strick, who works with investigations website Bellingcat, said on Twitter that the explosions appeared to have been centred on a 130 m long grey warehouse alongside a dock inside the port zone.

Retired US nuclear scientist Cheryl Rofer wrote on Twitter that the “red cloud” of the massive was “very likely ammonium nitrate”, a common agricultural fertiliser that is a highly explosive compound.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun called for “urgent” defence council talks, while Prime Minister Hasan Diab declared Wednesday a day of mourning.

AFP video footage of the aftermath of the blasts showed areas of near-complete devastation, with cars flipped onto their roofs like children’s toys, and warehouses flattened.

Soldiers tried to clear the streets of dazed civilians, some of them drenched from head to toe in their own blood.

Volunteers led stunned survivors away to seek medical help, using their shirts as makeshift bandages to staunch deep gashes on their faces and bodies.

“We heard an explosion, then we saw the mushroom,” said a Beirut resident who witnessed the second, deafening explosion from her balcony in the city’s Mansourieh district.

“The force of the threw us backwards into the apartment.”

Every shop in the Hamra commercial district had sustained damage, with entire storefronts destroyed, windows shattered and many cars wrecked, said an Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter.

Outside the Clemenceau Medical Centre, dozens of wounded people, many covered in blood, were rushing to be admitted to   the centre, including children.

A huge blaze sent up black smoke from the port area, as helicopters dumped on burning buildings. A ship moored off   the port was on fire.

The port zone was cordoned off by the security forces, allowing access only to a string of ambulances, fire trucks with wailing sirens and relatives of workers who had been inside.

Hundreds immediately shared their shock and grief on social media.

“Buildings are shaking,” tweeted one resident, while another wrote: “An enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away.”

Online footage from a Lebanese newspaper office showed blown out windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior panelling.

The explosions hit a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades which has left nearly half of the population in poverty, as well as the pandemic.

Lebanon’s economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting, businesses closing en masse and poverty soaring at the same alarming rate as unemployment.

The explosions also came three days before a UN tribunal’s verdict on the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, killed in a huge 2005 truck attack.

Four alleged members of the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah are on trial in absentia at the court in The Hague over the huge Beirut bombing that killed Sunni billionaire Hariri and 21 other people. A woman in the city centre Tuesday told AFP the blast “felt like an earthquake” and “bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005”.

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