At least 50 people were killed and some 2,750 others injured when a powerful explosion rocked Beirut’s port. Buildings were destroyed and windows shattered, with dozens of Red Cross teams racing to the scene.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.
Windows were shattered and buildings were destroyed in the widespread damage, while smoke was seen billowing across the city. Damage appears to have spread for several kilometers.
Beirut’s governor told local TV: “I have never in my life seen a disaster this big.”
Several eyewitnesses reported that some of the wounded may be buried under rubble.
‘Hospitals are overloaded’
“My apartment is completely destroyed,” Joachim Paul of the Heinrich Böll Foundation told DW. “I was in a shopping mall when the explosion happened, and I was under the impression that a bomb had gone off in the mall.”
Paul said if he had been sitting at his desk in his apartment when the explosion took place he could have been seriously injured.
DW’s correspondent in Beirut Razan Salman reported the “total chaos and people panicking” on the streets.
“I witnessed that there were casualties even from areas that are very far away from the location of the explosion,” she added.
DW’s Bassel Aridi visited a hospital. “What I saw in the hospital was so dramatic. All the hospitals have announced that they are totally overloaded.”
“People are asking for their loved ones on social media,” he added. “The destruction and ruins are huge.”
An eyewitness told Reuters news agency, “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.”
Many people were seen lying injured on the ground and hospitals put out immediate calls for blood donations, the Associated Press reported. One hospital reported over 500 patients had arrived, bringing them to capacity.
Warehouses stored ‘highly explosive materials’
Local TV stations reported that the blast took place at an area where fireworks were sold, while Lebanon’s state news agency NNA quoted security sources as saying that the warehouses may have housed explosives.
Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim confirmed that there were warehouses in the area that stored “highly explosive materials,” without elaborating on whether this referred to weapons or fireworks. Ibrahim said the materials had been “confiscated years ago.” DW correspondents on the scene reported that dangerous chemicals and explosives may have been stored in the same place.
The Lebanese Red Cross said “hundreds” were injured and tweeted that over 30 teams were responding to the incident.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning for the victims of the explosion, according to local media, while President Michel Aoun called an emergency meeting with the National Defense Council.
In a state TV address, Diab also vowed that those responsible for the explosion would “pay the price.” He called on all “friendly countries” to send help.
The German Foreign Ministry announced that German citizens were among those injured.
“We are shocked by the pictures from Beirut,” they wrote on Twitter. “Workers from our embassy are among those who are injured. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the victims. Germany is standing by Lebanon in this difficult time. We are looking at what help we can offer.”
International community responds
The White House announced that the United States was monitoring the explosion very closely and was ready to “offer all possible assistance.” The European Union, France, Saudi Arabia and Iran also both announced they would help Lebanon in any way necessary.
After the blast, Israel said it had nothing to do with the explosion. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli TV that he believed the explosion was most likely caused by a fire, urging “caution around speculation.” Israel also added its voice to those offering humanitarian aid.
Tensions have been high between the two neighboring countries after Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt by Hezbollah gunmen. Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006.
ed/stb (AFP, dpa, Reuters) (DW)