An enormous explosion occurred in Beirut on Tuesday, devastating buildings and large areas across the capital, resulting in a giant mushroom cloud and shockwave.
An official with the Lebanese Red Cross told the Associated Press that, so far, at least 100 people are dead and more than 4,000 were wounded. The official, George Kettaneh, said the toll could rise further as more details arise.
As of yet, it is not clear what caused the blast, which produced the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s Geo-Sciences center (GFZ), and was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus.
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.
The explosion destroyed numerous apartment buildings, which will leave large numbers of people homeless at a time when many Lebanese have lost their jobs and seen their savings evaporate because of an economic crisis. The blast also raises concerns about how Lebanon will continue to import nearly all of its vital goods with its main port devastated.
Estimates suggest some 85% of the country’s grain was stored at the now-destroyed silos.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, broke into tears as he toured the site, exclaiming, “Beirut is a devastated city.” Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that “those responsible will pay.”
At the start of a White House news conference on the coronavirus, Trump said the explosion “looks like a terrible attack.” When asked by a reporter if he was confident that it was an attack, Trump said: “I met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was.”