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Beirut blast survivors sift rubble for bodies as death toll continues to rise

Survivors of a massive explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital of Beirut last night were picking through the remains of their city for victims today as the death toll topped 100 and was expected to continue rising, with more than 4,000 wounded.

The city, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, resembled a huge scrapyard as the sun rose on Wednesday – with barely a building left unscathed in a blast caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded with a fifth of the power of the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima.

Street after street, neighbourhood after neighbourhood, buildings were left without roofs or windows, their interiors shredded by the force of the explosion – believed to have been sparked when a welder caused a fire at the port, which in turn set light to a warehouse storing chemicals which had been seized from a ship six years ago.

After a night of shock and awe, the full scale of the calamity now facing Lebanon – a country that was already in the midst of an economic crisis – was laid bare at dawn, as hospitals struggled to cope with the influx of wounded and the threat of recriminations hung in the air, along with smoke from still-burning fires. 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed those responsible will ‘pay the price’ as he declared a two-week state of emergency to deal with the crisis. 

The United States, the UK, France, the Gulf states and even bitter rivals Israel have offered aid to the country, which is already grappling with twin economic and coronavirus crises. 

President Michel Aoun declared three days of mourning, and announced he would release 100 billion lira ($66 million) of emergency funds. 

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim earlier said the ‘highly explosive material’ had been confiscated years earlier, reportedly from a ship.

President Donald Trump last night called the explosion a ‘terrible attack’ and said US generals had told him it appeared to have been caused by a ‘bomb of some kind’, without offering evidence. 

A massive explosion has rocked Beirut this afternoon destroying buildings and sending a huge fireball into the sky

Dramatic footage shows smoke billowing from the port area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes into the sky and blankets the city in a thick mushroom cloud

Dramatic footage on social media shows people screaming as an enormous blast rocks the waterside area of Lebanon's capital city

Dramatic footage shows smoke billowing from the port area shortly before an enormous fireball explodes into the sky and blankets the city in a thick mushroom cloud

Wounded people are treated at a hospital following the explosion, which has left hundreds of casualties in Beirut last night

Wounded people are treated at a hospital following the explosion, which has left hundreds of casualties in Beirut last night

It lay waste to the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames this evening, and even wreaked havoc on districts miles away from the blast site

It lay waste to the immediate surrounding buildings, where firefighters were still battling flames this evening, and even wreaked havoc on districts miles away from the blast site

A Lebanese army helicopter flies over the site of the blast in Beirut's port area on Wednesday morning as smoke still rises from the rubble

A Lebanese army helicopter flies over the site of the blast in Beirut’s port area on Wednesday morning as smoke still rises from the rubble

A view of the damages after an explosion at the Beirut Port yesterday evening. Witnesses have stressed the sheer enormity of the blast, which was heard 125 miles away in Cyprus, and likened it to a 'nuclear bomb'

A view of the damages after an explosion at the Beirut Port yesterday evening. Witnesses have stressed the sheer enormity of the blast, which was heard 125 miles away in Cyprus, and likened it to a ‘nuclear bomb’

A destroyed facade of a building is seen following the blast on Tuesday. Rescuers worked throughout the night to find people amid the devastation

A destroyed facade of a building is seen following the blast on Tuesday. Rescuers worked throughout the night to find people amid the devastation

Police and forensic officers work at the scene of an explosion on Wednesday morning and rescuers continue to look for survivors

Police and forensic officers work at the scene of an explosion on Wednesday morning and rescuers continue to look for survivors

The aftermath this morning of the destroyed port. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed those responsible will 'pay the price' and plunged the country into a two-week state of emergency

The aftermath this morning of the destroyed port. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed those responsible will ‘pay the price’ and plunged the country into a two-week state of emergency

Fires continue to burn at the industrial port late into the night in Beirut following the deadly blasts

Fires continue to burn at the industrial port late into the night in Beirut following the deadly blasts 

Medics shift an injured person from Najjar Hospital to another hospital in Al-Hamra area in Beirut after several hospitals were damaged in the blast

Medics shift an injured person from Najjar Hospital to another hospital in Al-Hamra area in Beirut after several hospitals were damaged in the blast  

Lebanese army soldier runs at the scene of an explosion at Beirut's port

Lebanese army soldier runs at the scene of an explosion at Beirut’s port 

Trump calls deadly Beirut explosions a ‘terrible attack’ 

President Trump

President Trump

President Donald Trump described deadly explosions as a ‘terrible attack’ during a Tuesday press conference, despite no evidence suggesting the blasts were intentional.

A series of massive explosions in the Lebanese capital’s port area rocked the city earlier today, killing at least 70 people and injuring more than 3,000 others. 

‘The United States stands ready to assist Lebanon,’ Trump said at a White House briefing. ‘We will be there to help. It looks like a terrible attack.’

When quizzed by a reporter if he was certain the explosion was in fact an attack, Trump confirmed that he was, insisting he had ‘met with some of our great generals and they seem to feel that it was.

‘They would know better than I would,’ the president continued. ‘They seem to think … it was a bomb of some kind, yes.’

The U.S. embassy in Beirut warned residents in the city about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks if available. 

Critical infrastructure was affected by the blast, including the port, the airport and hospitals.

Firefighters had already been on the scene dealing with an initial blaze when the explosion took place. One security source told Reuters today that the initial fire was caused during welding work on a hole in a warehouse wall.

That fire spread, and before firefighters could control it, apparently detonated the ammonium nitrate. 

One Israeli bomb expert suggested fireworks could have been involved in the initial blaze.

Explosives certification expert Boaz Hayoun said: ‘Before the big explosion … in the center of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles. This is very specific behavior of fireworks.’

After the second, more devastating explosion, images showed port buildings reduced to tangled masonry, devastating the main entry point to a country that relies on food imports to feed its population of more than six million. 

Charbel Haj, who works at the harbour, said the explosion started as small explosions like firecrackers before he was suddenly thrown off his feet by the huge blast. 

The explosion damaged the Roum Hospital, which put out a call for people to bring it spare generators to keep its electricity going as it evacuated patients because of heavy damage.

Outside the St George University Hospital in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighbuorhood, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, in cars and on foot.

The explosion had caused major damage inside the building and knocked out the electricity at the hospital. Dozens of injured were being treated on the spot on the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.   

Lebanon’s Red Cross said it had been drowning in calls from injured people, many who are still trapped in their homes.  

Miles from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down, ceiling collapsed and windows were shattered.  

Beirut’s main airport, six miles away from the port, was reportedly damaged by the explosion, with pictures showing sections of collapsed ceiling. 

Beirut’s governor told journalists he does not know the cause of the explosion and said he had never seen such destruction, comparing the sobering scenes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

Local Fady Roumieh was stood in the car park to shopping centre ABC Mall Achrafieh, around 2km east of the blast, when the explosion occurred.

Ammonium nitrate: the fertilizer behind many industrial accidents

Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said was the cause of the Beirut blast, is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.

These include notably at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013 that killed 15 and was ruled deliberate, and another at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France in 2001 that killed 31 people but was accidental.

When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used by the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups like the Taliban for improvised explosives.

It was also a component in the bomb behind the 1995 Oklahoma City attack.

In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertilizer is applied in granule form and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen — which is key to plant growth — to be released into the soil.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a Beirut portside warehouse had blown up, killing dozens of people and causing unprecedented damage to the Lebanese capital.

However, under normal storage conditions and without very high heat, it is difficult to ignite ammonium nitrate, Jimmie Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island, told AFP.

‘If you look at the video (of the Beirut explosion), you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke, that was an incomplete reaction,’ she said.

‘I am assuming that there was a small explosion that instigated the reaction of the ammonium nitrate — whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose I haven’t heard yet.’

That’s because ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer — it intensifies combustion and allows other substances to ignite more readily, but is not itself very combustible.

For these reasons, there are generally very strict rules about where it can be stored: for example, it must be kept away from fuels and sources of heat.

In fact, many countries in the European Union require that calcium carbonate to be added to ammonium nitrate to create calcium ammonium nitrate, which is safer.

In the United States, regulations were tightened significantly after the Oklahoma City attack.

He said: ‘It was like a nuclear bomb. The damage is so widespread and severe all over the city. 

‘Some buildings as far as 2km are partially collapsed. It’s like a war zone. The damage is extreme. Not one glass window intact.’ 

A soldier at the port, where relatives of the missing scrambled for news of their loved ones, said: ‘It’s a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead.’

A woman in her twenties stood screaming at security forces, asking about the fate of her brother, a port employee.

‘His name is Jad, his eyes are green,’ she pleaded, to no avail as officers refused her entry.

‘It was like an atomic bomb,’ said Makrouhie Yerganian, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-70s who has lived near the port for decades.

‘I’ve experienced everything, but nothing like this before,’ even during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, she said.

‘All the buildings around here have collapsed.’  

One witness said: ‘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.’ 

Rami Rifai, a 38-year-old engineer,from a hospital where his two daughters were receiving treatment after sustaining cuts despite being half a kilometre from the seat of the blast said: ‘We’ve had some dark days in Lebanon over the years but this is something else.

‘We already had the economic crisis, a government of thieves and coronavirus. I didn’t think it could get worse but now I don’t know if this country can get up again. Everyone is going to try to leave. I will try to leave,’ he said, his voice choked by tears.

One resident of Mar Mikhail, one of the most affected neighbourhoods, said she saw bodies strewn in the middle of the street, apparently thrown off balconies and rooftops by the blast. 

For a long time after the blast, ambulance sirens sounded across the city and helicopters hovered above. 

Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east). 

And in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island lying 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession. 

One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.  

‘We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether its accidental or manmade act,’ he said. 

Condolences poured in from across the world with Gulf nations, the United States and even Lebanon’s arch foe Israel offering to send aid. France also promised to send assistance.

The blast revived memories of a 1975-90 civil war and its aftermath, when Lebanese endured heavy shelling, car bombings and Israeli air raids. Some residents thought an earthquake had struck. 

‘The blast blew me off metres away. I was in a daze and was all covered in blood. It brought back the vision of another explosion I witnessed against the U.S. embassy in 1983,’ said Huda Baroudi, a Beirut designer. 

Footage shows a thick column of smoke rising from the port before an explosion sends a fireball into the sky

A general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large explosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut

A general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large explosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut

Lebanese firefighters work at the scene of explosion at the Beirut Port, Beirut following the huge explosion yesterday evening

Lebanese firefighters work at the scene of explosion at the Beirut Port, Beirut following the huge explosion yesterday evening 

An injured man covered in blood is seen in Beirut following the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday

An injured man covered in blood is seen in Beirut following the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday

A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4

A man reacts at the scene of an explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4

Glass is shattered by the explosion at the Cavalier Hotel in Beirut following the explosion

Glass is shattered by the explosion at the Cavalier Hotel in Beirut following the explosion 

Pictures shows the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, which lay waste to surrounding buildings

Pictures shows the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, which lay waste to surrounding buildings

Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut

Firefighters spray water at a fire after an explosion was heard in Beirut

Explosion rocks Lebanon during time of deep economic turmoil 

The explosion comes amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Late last year investigators revealed what was effectively a state-sponsored pyramid scheme being run by the central bank, which was borrowing from commercial banks at above-market interest rates to pay back its debts and maintain the Lebanese pound’s fixed exchange rate with the US dollar.

In January mass protests against the corruption allegations and a faltering economy led to the fall of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government.

His predecessor , Independent Hassan Diab, cut the country’s budget by $700million and put in place a financial rescue plan a month later.

But Lebanon’s problems have persisted after the Covid-19 pandemic forced global border closures, and protests have returned after the Lebanese pound fell in value, despite a lockdown being imposed in March.

Many businesses have been forced to close, but as prices continue to rise with a devalued currency some are struggling to buy basic necessities, and the prime minister warned that Lebanon was at risk of a ‘major food crisis’.

Analysts suggest the crisis has been prolonged because of political sectarianism, with the president, prime minister and speaker split between the three largest cultural groups; Christians; Shia Muslim; and Sunni Muslims.

Parliament is also drawn down the middle between Christian and Muslim members.

With the country’s governance in need of unity between the competing groups, external powers have been able to interfere in the country. Iran, for instance, backs the militant Hezbollah Shia movement

UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed his ‘deepest condolences … following the horrific explosions in Beirut’ which he said had also injured some United Nations personnel. 

Boris Johnson offered to help the crisis-hit country, tweeting: ‘The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking. 

‘All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident. The UK is ready to provide support in any way we can, including to those British nationals affected.’ 

The UK Foreign Office has said a few of its embassy staff sustained non-life threatening injuries in the blast. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said in a tweet: ‘The images of explosions in Beirut are deeply worrying. Our thoughts are with those affected, the emergency services and the people of Lebanon.’ 

Offers of aid also came from bitter rivals Israel, with which it is still technically at war. 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government – via international intermediaries – medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance,’ said a joint statement from the two ministries. 

Last week, Israel accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of trying to send gunmen across the UN-demarcated Blue Line and said it held the Lebanese government responsible for what it termed an attempted ‘terrorist’ attack. 

Hezbollah said all of the country’s political powers must unite to overcome the ‘painful catastrophe’. 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France stood ‘alongside Lebanon’ and was ready to help, tweeting: ‘France stands and will always stand by the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It is ready to provide assistance according to the needs expressed by the Lebanese authorities. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: ‘We are monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this horrible tragedy.’

Iran’s foreign minister has said it is standing by to help Lebanon recover from the fallout of the explosion.

Countries in the Gulf paid tribute to victims of the explosion as Qatar said it would send field hospitals to support Lebanon’s medical response.

Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani called President Michel Aoun to offer condolences, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Tamim wished ‘a speedy recovery for the injured,’ adding that he ‘expressed Qatar’s solidarity with brotherly Lebanon and its willingness to provide all kinds of assistance’. 

Buildings and cars are partially destroyed in the neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael following an explosion at the port of Beirut last night

Buildings and cars are partially destroyed in the neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael following an explosion at the port of Beirut last night 

Firefighters douse a blaze at the city's port tonight following the deadly explosion which has wreaked devestation on Beirut

Firefighters douse a blaze at the city’s port tonight following the deadly explosion which has wreaked devestation on Beirut

Smoke billows from harbor area with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor of Beirut

Smoke billows from harbor area with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor of Beirut

The thick plume of smoke looms over the city of Beirut on Tuesday evening after the explosion at the port

The thick plume of smoke looms over the city of Beirut on Tuesday evening after the explosion at the port

A view shows the damages entrance of a store in Burj Abu Haidar area in Beirut

A view shows the damages entrance of a store in Burj Abu Haidar area in Beirut

Israel among the countries to offer bomb-struck Beirut humanitarian aid 

In a televised message this evening, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on all ‘friendly and brotherly countries to stand by Lebanon’, hours after the bomb blast which tore through downtown Beirut, killing dozens, wounding thousands, and destroying countless buildings in the city centre. 

Among those to answer the call were Iran, Britain and France. 

Israel, whom Lebanon is still technically at war with, also offered their support. 

‘Following the explosion in Beirut, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government – via international intermediaries – medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance,’ said a joint statement from the two ministries.

The offer comes after two weeks of heightened tensions between the rival neighbours, with a series of border clashes between the Israeli Defence Forces and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern frontier. 

Israel accused the Lebanese group Hezbollah of trying to send gunmen across the UN-demarcated Blue Line and said it held the Lebanese government responsible for what it termed an attempted ‘terrorist’ attack.

Hezbollah and Israel last fought a 33-day war in the summer of 2006.  

Elsewhere in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that ‘our hearts are with Beirut and its people’.

He posted the tribute alongside an image of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, illuminated in the colours of the Lebanese flag.

‘Our prayers during these difficult hours are that God… protects brotherly Lebanon and the Lebanese to reduce their affliction and heal their wounds,’ he wrote.

Gulf countries including Qatar and the UAE maintain close ties with Beirut and have long provided financial aid and diplomatic assistance to mediate Lebanon’s political and sectarian divisions.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry urged its nationals in Lebanon to contact the ministry’s operations centre or Manama’s representative in Beirut, while Kuwait ordered its citizens to take extreme caution and stay indoors. 

It comes just days before a United Nations tribunal is set to rule on the assassination of the country’s former PM Rafik Hariri.

The house of his son, Saad Hariri, who also led the country, was damaged by the blast but he was confirmed safe.

Save the Children said in a statement that members of their team on the ground in the city have reported entire streets destroyed and children unaccounted for.

Despite the charity’s offices in the city being badly damaged, they have pledged that a rapid response team is ready to offer support.

Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s country director in Lebanon, said: ‘We are shocked and devastated by the explosion today.

‘The death toll may not be known for several days but we do know is that in a disaster like this, children may be hurt, shocked and separated from their parents.

‘Our child protection teams are ready to support the government’s efforts, which will almost certainly go on for several days to come.

‘It is vital that children and their families get access to the services they urgently need, including medical care and physical and emotional protection.’

He added: ‘The incident could not have occurred at a worst time and has hit communities who were already suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the economic deterioration.

‘Beirut’s main port, now completely damaged, is vital for much of the food, grains and fuel that Lebanon imports, and families will immediately feel the shortage in basic needs as a result of this tragedy.’

Lebanese President Michel Aoun holds a High Defence Council meeting at the Baabda Palace following the blast

Lebanese President Michel Aoun holds a High Defence Council meeting at the Baabda Palace following the blast

A car if left flipped on its roof on a motorway as a result of the devastating impact of the explosion yesterday

A car if left flipped on its roof on a motorway as a result of the devastating impact of the explosion yesterday

A mobile phone image showing a general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large exoplosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut

A mobile phone image showing a general view of the harbor area with smoke billowing from an area of a large exoplosion, with damage and debris after a large explosion rocked the harbor area of Beirut

People on the street in Beirue which is strewn with debris from damaged buildings following the explosion

People on the street in Beirue which is strewn with debris from damaged buildings following the explosion

The loud blast in Beirut's port area was felt across large parts of the city and some districts lost electricity

The loud blast in Beirut’s port area was felt across large parts of the city and some districts lost electricity

The health minister told Reuters there was a "very high number" of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded

The health minister told Reuters there was a ‘very high number’ of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded

Witnesses have reported bystanders injured by falling debris from buildings and shards of glass flying towards people after the shockwave smashed out windows

Witnesses have reported bystanders injured by falling debris from buildings and shards of glass flying towards people after the shockwave smashed out windows

A wounded man walks near the scene of an explosion in Beirut

A wounded man walks near the scene of an explosion in Beirut

A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut last night. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city

A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut last night. The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city

Israel denies any involvement in Beirut port blast that comes amid rising tensions in between Lebanon and its neighbour

by WILL COLE for MailOnline 

Israel has denied having anything to do with the huge explosion in Beirut, adding that the country was ready to give humanitarian and medical assistance to Lebanon.

The huge explosion in port warehouses near the city centre as killed more than 70 people, injured at least 4,000 and sent shockwaves that shattered windows, smashed masonry and shook the ground.

Officials said they 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 in years to hit Beirut, which is already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

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.

‘Israel has approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance,’ a written statement from Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said. 

Shi’ite Iran, the main backer of militant political party Hezbollah, also offered support, as did Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni power. 

Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up

Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up

‘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. Ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east 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.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut warned residents in the city about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks if available. 

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port followed by an enormous blast, sending up a white cloud and a fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (one mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

It was not immediately clear what caused the initial blaze on Tuesday that set off the blast.

Lebanon’s health minister said more than 50 people had been killed and more than 2,750 injured. Lebanon’s Red Cross said hundreds of people had been taken to hospitals.

The governor of Beirut port told Sky News a team of firefighters, who were battling the initial blaze, had ‘disappeared’ after the explosion.

President Michel Aoun called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared. He said it was ‘unacceptable’ that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored for six years without safety measures.

The prime minister called for a day of mourning. 

The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.

Hariri was killed by a huge truck bomb on the same waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port. 

Western countries including the United States, Britain and France also said they were ready to assist.

Images showed port buildings reduced to tangled masonry, devastating the main entry point to a country that relies on food imports to feed its population of more than 6 million.

It threatens a new humanitarian crisis in a nation that hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and which is already grappling with economic meltdown under one of the world’s biggest debt burdens.

Residents said glass was broken in neighbourhoods on Beirut’s Mediterranean coast and inland suburbs several kms (miles) away. In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, residents heard the blast. One resident in Nicosia said his house and window shutters shook.

Lessons from history: Some of the worst industrial accidents from the last two decades

Tianjin, China – Container storage explosion

On August 12, 2015, a series of explosions killed approximately 173 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station in the city’s port.

Responders to initial reports of a fire at the site were not able to bring the blaze under control because, unknown to the firefighters, vast amounts of sodium cyanide and other chemicals which react with water were being stored at the site. 

There were two initial explosions within 30 seconds of each other at the facility, the second of which was far larger because it was the result of 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploding.

Fires at the site, which released tonnes of harmful substances into the air, were left uncontrolled due to the sheer scale of the explosion.

Of the 173 fatalities, 104 were firefighters.

On August 12, 2015, a series of explosions killed approximately 173 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station in the city's port

On August 12, 2015, a series of explosions killed approximately 173 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station in the city’s port

 

 

Gazipur, Bangladesh – A boiler explosion

During a restart of equipment on July 3, 2017, following a 10-day shutdown for Eid, Multifabs Limited confirmed that there garments factory boiler exploded, collapsing a section of its multi-story factory in the district of Gazipur on the outskirts of Dhaka.

Worringly, the company was quoted as saying some 50 people were inside the building while the six-year-old boiler was having maintenance work done to it.

Over the next 24 hours, rescuers found seven bodies in rubble, and three other victims died in hospital. The death toll would remained at 10.

‘I heard a big bang when I was having tea outside,’ factory driver Hafiz Mostafa said, as dozens thronged the factory site and firefighters moved rubble in search of missing persons. ‘I saw windows, doors, glasses, machinery and a section of the wall of the building go flying.’ 

‘The boiler was running well,’ Mahiuddin Faruqui, Multifab’s chairman told Reuters at the time. ‘After servicing when workers were trying to restart it, it went off.’ 

 

Cyprus navy base – Munitions dump blast

In one of the worst defence industry disasters this century, 13 people, including the head of the Cypriot navy, a navy base commander and six firefighters were killed by a blast at a munitions dump which knocked out the island’s biggest power station.

Firefighters were called to the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast of the island on 11 July, 2011, to tackle a blaze at the dump, which burned for about an hour before causing the explosion.

The blast almost levelled the nearby Vassilikos power plant, which produces nearly 60 percent of the island’s energy, damaged buildings in nearby villages and rained metal on a motorway. All the victims were Cypriots.

The country’s defense minister and army chief quit hours after the explosion at the dump, which held confiscated Iranian armaments. A government spokesman ruled out sabotage.

The blast wounded 62 people, shredded the outer walls of two multi-storey buildings and shook olive groves and farming villages for miles around the base.

‘My tractor jumped about half a meter in the air,’ said farmer Nicos Aspros, who was tilling his field at the time of the blast. ‘There isn’t a house in the community which hasn’t been damaged.’ 

Firefighters were called to the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast of the island on 11 July, 2011, to tackle a blaze at the dump, which burned for about an hour before causing the explosion

Firefighters were called to the Evangelos Florakis navy base on the south coast of the island on 11 July, 2011, to tackle a blaze at the dump, which burned for about an hour before causing the explosion

 

Lagos, Nigeria – Armoury explosion

The armoury explosion was the result of an accidental detonation of a large stock of military high explosives at a storage facility in the Nigerian capital on 27 January 2002.

The fires created by the debris from this explosion burnt down a large section of Northern Lagos, and created a panic that spread to other areas.

Also thrown up by the blast were thousands of as yet unexploded military munitions, which fell in a rain of exploding shells, grenades and bullets casting further destruction across most of the northern section of the city.

As people fled the flames, many stumbled into a concealed Ejigbo canal and drowned. 

The explosion and its aftermath are believed to have killed at least 1,100 people and displaced over 20,000, with many thousands injured or homeless.

The government of Nigeria launched an enquiry, which blamed the for failing to properly maintain the base, or to decommission it when instructed to do so in 2001.

 

Enschede, Netherlands – Fireworks disaster

The city of Enschede was built up around the SE Fireworks depot, the only one in the Netherlands to be located in a residential area.

On 13 May, 2000, firefighters were tackling a small fire at the warehouse when the explosion ripped through the building sending debris and fireworks into the air.

Unaware of the oncoming disaster, locals had been watching the firefighters tackle the blaze – and at least one was filming the fire – when the factory exploded.

The first explosion had a strength of 800kg TNT equivalence. However the majority of the damage was caused by the last explosion which had a strength within the range of 4000–5000kg TNT equivalent.

A total of 400 homes were destroyed and 1500 buildings damaged. The blasts killed 23 people including four firefighters, and injured nearly 1,000 people. 

One week prior to the explosion, SE had been audited. The company was judged to have met all official safety regulations while the legally imported fireworks had been inspected by Dutch authorities and deemed safe.

 Dutch firefighters continued to work in harsh conditions, and with the help of German firefighters from a town a short distance over the border, the blaze was put out by the end of the day. 

On 13 May, 2000, firefighters were tackling a small fire at the warehouse when the explosion ripped through the building sending debris and fireworks into the air

On 13 May, 2000, firefighters were tackling a small fire at the warehouse when the explosion ripped through the building sending debris and fireworks into the air

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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