Aussie one of dozens killed as deadly blast rocks Beirut

 

A massive mushroom cloud explosion has rocked Lebanon's capital city Beirut.

At least 50 people - including one Australian - have been killed by the blast and thousands have been injured, and the number of fatalities is expected to skyrocket.

The blast tore down buildings, flattened houses, ripped balconies from apartments, tossed cars from the nearby motorway, and sent a huge plume of smoke billowing across the city.

Shocked Beirut City Governor Marwan Aboud said his city was in the midst of a "national disaster akin to Hiroshima''.

Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the explosion.

 

"All the buildings around here have collapsed. I'm walking through glass and debris everywhere, in the dark," one witness told AFP.

It is not yet clear what caused the explosion, but videos show smoke rising from a fire before the blast. There were also reports of a second explosion.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the blasts had killed at least 50 people and left 2500 injured by the blast on Tuesday, according to "preliminary estimates".

The number is likely to rise due to the number of seriously injured people, he said, with medical workers among the dead.

The number is likely to rise due to the number of seriously injured people, he said, with medical workers among the dead.

"It is a disaster in every sense of the word," he said in an interview with several television channels while visiting a hospital.

Many hospitals in the Beirut are now overwhelmed, a BBC reporter at one of them said patients were being treated in the hallways and there were blood stains on the walls.

Two hospitals have been evacuated because of the severe damage - one of which is a hospital that was treating coronavirus patients - and many in the city have been experiencing power outages.

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

Preliminary reports by local Lebanese media said the blast may have been the result of an incident at Beirut's port.

"Buildings are shaking," tweeted one resident, while another wrote, "an enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away".

Online footage from a Lebanese newspaper office showed blown out windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior panelling.

The blast comes at a difficult period for Lebanon, which was already suffering under a number of major crises.

Residents were suffering under massive inflation and struggled to buy basic goods in some areas - and that was before the pandemic hit.

Tensions are also high ahead of Friday's verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

2,750 TONNES OF EXPLOSIVES IN WAREHOUSE

The explosion erupted in the city's port area late afternoon on Tuesday. Videos show a fire burning at a warehouse in the area before an enormous explosion.

Lebanon's Prime Minsiter Hassan Diab told reporters that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were being stored in a warehouse. He said this was "unacceptable"

"I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened so we can hold them to account and impose the most severe punishment," the prime minister was quoted as saying by an official Twitter account.

"It is unacceptable that a shipment of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has been present for six years in a warehouse, without taking preventive measures and endangering the safety of citizens".

Local media reports the chemicals were seized from a sinking ship more than a decade ago.

 

WORLD LEADERS REACT

Scott Morrison says one Australian has been killed in the explosion. He tweeted a message of support to Lebanon this morning.

He said the building housing the Australian embassy has been "significantly" damaged but staff are well, except for minor injuries.

"Terrible scenes out of Beirut after a major explosion," he said.

"Our hearts go out to those caught up in this tragedy and to our Australian Lebanese community waiting to hear from their loved ones. Australia stands ready to provide our support, including to any Australians affected."

France, the UK and Iran have offered assistance to Lebanon.

British prime minister Boris Johnson said: "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."

Originally published as Enormous explosion in Lebanon


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