Beirut explosion: What caused deadly blast that killed at least 78 and injured thousands

A reported 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were being stored at the port in a “dangerous warehouse”, which may have been ignited by welding work, though Donald Trump claims it was a “bomb of some kind”

    A huge blast in port warehouses near central Beirut has killed 78 people, injured nearly 4,000 and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital.

    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.

    But what caused the blast that shattered windows across the city and could be heard in Cyprus 110 miles away?

    A wounded man is helped by a fireman near the scene of the explosion
    (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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    President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures and said it was "unacceptable".

    He called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared.

    While Prime Minister Hassan Diab told the nation there would be accountability for the deadly blast at the "dangerous warehouse".

    A huge orange fireball erupted into the sky following the blast

    "Those responsible will pay the price," he said in a televised address to the nation, adding that details would be made public.

    Officials did not say what caused the initial blaze that set off the blast. A security source and local media said it was started by welding work carried out on a hole in the warehouse.

    While US President Donald Trump has claimed he has been informed by his generals that it was down to a "bomb of some kind".

    The explosion is said to have come from a 'dangerous warehouse'

    The explosion occurred three days before a UN-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 one mile from the port.

    Israeli officials said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with Tuesday's blast and said their country was ready to give humanitarian and medical assistance.

    A woman is wheeled into a hospital after the blast
    (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

    Smoke rises into the sky
    (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    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 one mile from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

    Hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6pm, 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 man carries a wounded person
    (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    Damaged buildings are seen after the blast in Beirut
    (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    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 US 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.

    The Lebanese government said it as still struggling to establish the full scale of the disaster.

    "There are many people missing. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity," Health Minister Hamad Hasan said.


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