A massive explosion ripped through central Beirut on Tuesday, injuring hundreds of people and blowing out windows in buildings across the city.
The blast near the port in the Lebanese capital sent up a huge mushroom cloud-shaped shockwave, flipping over cars and damaging buildings miles away.
It is not yet clear what caused the explosion in the city’s port area. Video posted online showed a large mushroom cloud and destroyed buildings.
There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port, according to NNA. The director of the general security directorate later said the blast was caused by confiscated “high explosive materials,” but did not provide further details.
Lebanon’s internal security chief said the blast happened in an area housing highly explosive materials.
An “uncountable” number of people were wounded by the blast, the state-run National News Agency reported, and footage from the scene captured the injured staggering through streets in the capital. One eyewitness described the scenes as “like an apocalypse.”
A red cloud hung over the city in the wake of the explosion as firefighting teams rushed to the scene to try to put out the fire. At least 10 firefighters were missing, according to the city’s governor Marwan Abboud, who said the scene reminded him of “Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
“In my life I haven’t seen destruction on this scale,” Abboud said. “This is a national catastrophe.”
The blast damaged buildings across the city, including the official residence of Lebanon’s president, the headquarters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and CNN’s bureau in downtown Beirut. Homes as far as 10 kilometers away were damaged, according to witnesses.
The blast comes at a tense time in Lebanon. On Friday a UN-backed panel is expected to issue a verdict on the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a move many fear will stoke sectarian tensions. The country is also in the midst of an economic meltdown, with ballooning unemployment, a tanking currency and poverty rates soaring above 50%.