An explosion tore through a building at the port in Beirut on Tuesday, sending shockwaves across the city, leaving at least 50 dead and thousands injured in a blast heard as far away as 150 miles. The blast occurred around 6 p.m. local time. It has been reported that hospitals in the Lebanese capitol are at capacity and having to turn people away, and they are appealing for blood donations. The Red Cross stated that some people were still trapped in their homes.
“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.” Witness to Reuters
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Ambulances from all over the country responded to the incident. The death toll is expected to rise as workers pick through the rubble searching for survivors. Cars were overturned, windows totally shattered, entire facades of buildings torn off. Bodies were strewn around the area, and bloodied residents stumbled through the wreckage.
The Lebanese Interior Minister said that the building that exploded contained highly explosive material…ammonium nitrate…that had been stored there since 2014. It is unclear what caused the material to ignite. Hezbollah has often been accused of storing explosive materials and weapons in populated areas. Hezbollah is the “unofficial” group in charge of the port of Beirut. Whether or not this was a deliberate act will be the focus of an investigation.
The incident occured a few days before a UN tribunal is set to deliver a verdict on four Hezbollah members accused of killing former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 (Fox).
“The sounds of sirens of the fire brigade, ambulances, the police and also the military has been pretty incessant for the last 45 minutes and a huge number of emergency services and security forces are rushing to that area now. A lot of very dazed, very bloodied people are walking around trying to gather their bearings.” Zein Ja’far, Sky News Middle East Editor who was on scene when the blast struck
For those who lived in the city when Hezbollah blew up the US Marine barracks in 1983, the explosion was a horrifying reminder of that day. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning for Wednesday.
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