Massive blast rips through Beirut, killing 50 and injuring thousands

Picture: REUTERS.

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A huge explosion in port warehouses near central Beirut killed more than 50 people, injured over 2,750 and sent shockwaves that shattered windows, smashed masonry and shook the ground across the Lebanese capital.

Officials expected the death toll to rise further after Tuesday’s blast as emergency workers dug through rubble to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years.

Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, denied any role and offered help.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

Hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

A security source said victims were taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the eastern Bekaa valley were called in to help.

The blast was so big that some residents in the city, where memories of heavy shelling during the 1975 to 1990 civil war live on, thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and wounded people walked through streets searching for relatives.

“I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab told the nation.

“Those responsible will pay the price,” he said in his televised address, adding that details about the “dangerous warehouse” would be made public.

The interior minister told Al Jadeed TV that ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port since 2014.

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