A huge explosion rocked Beiruit, Lebanon, Tuesday devastating entire buildings and leaving an unknown number of people dead and wounded. Lebanon’s health minister Hamad Hassan confirmed that there were a large number of injuries and widespread damage.
Footage of the blast showed a large plume of dark red flames and smoke before a massive explosion threw up a mushroom cloud; powerful shock waves shattered glass, collapsed ceilings and pulled down balconies.
A witness on the ground who works for the United Nations, but does not speak on their behalf, was near the port when the explosion happened. She told The Daily Beast that bodies were scattered from the blast. “There was dark smoke from a fire and then a massive blast and everyone fell to the ground,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t get up.”
Abbas Ibrahim, director of General Security, told Lebanese media at a press conference that Israel was not to blame for the explosion. He pointed the finger as a depot at the port where highly explosive materials were stored after being confiscated.
Local media reports also indicate that the blast may have ripped through a fireworks warehouse. It is not yet clear what ignited a fire that could be seen in the area before the main explosion.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman, who is based in Beirut, was in the bureau about a kilometer away before the blast. He reported on CNN that people were tweeting photos of a fire in the port about 15 minutes before a massive blast shook the building, destroying the bureau.
He described a large red cloud hanging low over the city. “The city is in a state of panic,” he said on CNN. “The city is in a state of shock.”
Windows were blown out of buildings up to 6 miles away.
It is not immediately known what caused the blast, which came as the city braces for the verdict in a long-awaited trial over the assassination of former Sunni prime minister Rafik al-Hariri who was killed in a truck bomb 15 years ago. The defendants, from the Iran-backed group Hezbollah, are being tried in absentia. That verdict is expected Friday.
Beirut has been under siege by angry protesters demonstrating against economic strife and alleged corruption since the October Revolution kicked off in the fall of 2019. Daily demonstrations and widespread resignations have crippled the government.
Before that, the city buckled under the a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.
Tuesday’s blast was by far the biggest explosion to hit the city since the 2006 war with Israel.
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