A massive explosion took place in Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least 70 people and injuring thousands of others while flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital, and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky.
At a press conference later Tuesday, President Trump said U.S. military generals told him that they think the massive explosion was likely a bomb.
Lebanese Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said the injured were being taken to hospitals outside the capital because facilities there were at capacity. He put the number of casualties in the hundreds but said he did not have exact figures on dead or injured.
Abbas Ibrahim, Chief of Lebanese General Security, said the explosion might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.
The blast was stunning even for a city that has seen civil war, suicide bombings, and bombardment by Israel. It could be heard and felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean.
“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war,” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 550 yards from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.
Witnesses reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.
Video taken by residents showed a fire raging at the port, sending up a giant column of smoke, illuminated by flashes of what appear to be fireworks. Local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved.
The fire then appeared to catch at a nearby building, triggering a more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave.
Hours after the explosion, ambulances were still carrying away the wounded. Officials said the city’s hospitals were filled to capacity.
The afternoon blast shook several parts of the capital, and thick smoke billowed from the city center. Residents reported windows being blown out, and balconies and ceilings collapsing. The explosion appeared to be centered around Beirut’s port and caused wide-scale destruction and shattered windows miles away.
A civil defense official on the scene of the blast said his men had evacuated dozens to hospitals and that there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris.
Dozens of ambulances ferried the injured from the port area, where the wounded lay on the ground, Associated Press staff at the scene said. Hospitals were calling for blood donations.
— Abir Ghattas (@AbirGhattas) August 4, 2020
The blast came at a time when Lebanon’s economy is facing collapse, hit both by a financial crisis and coronavirus restrictions. Many people have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the dollar. The result has thrown many into poverty.