At least 3,000 people have been injured and 50 killed. Those numbers are likely to rise with hospitals filling up fast.
By Abbie Cheeseman, Adela Suliman and Matthew Mulligan
BEIRUT — A “colossal” explosion rocked the port area of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, on Tuesday, injuring thousands and causing widespread damage in a densely populated part of the city.
At least 3,000 people have been injured and 50 killed, Minister of Health Hamad Hasan said at a press conference. Those numbers are likely to rise with hospitals filling up fast.
Images and videos on social media appear to show large plumes of smoke and damaged buildings in the Middle Eastern country, but the cause of the blast and its exact location were not immediately clear.
Lebanon’s National News Agency reported the cause may have been a fire in a hangar where explosives were being stored in the Beirut port, on the country’s west coast.
The head of Lebanon’s General Security Agency Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim toured the Beirut port, inspecting the damage and said: “It is not possible to preempt investigations and say that there was a terrorist act.”
Images and videos posted on social media and verified by NBC News’ social newsgathering team, compared with satellite imagery, appear to corroborate that the explosion happened at a warehouse at the Beirut Port Silos.
The National News Agency also reported that wheat was being stored in a nearby warehouse. Fire trucks were en route to the scene and evacuation operations were underway, it said. Military and security personnel were also trying to ease traffic to make way for emergency vehicles.
The Lebanese Red Cross also confirmed on Twitter that it had more than 30 teams including ambulances responding to the blast and had put out an urgent call for blood donations.
“Injuries are definitely within the hundreds,” a spokesman for the Lebanese Red Cross told NBC News by telephone. “I cannot give a specific number of casualties at the moment, we are overwhelmed with cases.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Twitter that the Ministry of Health would meet the expenses of the treatment for the wounded and that the government would provide shelter and support to displaced families whose properties were damaged in the blast.
Lebanon is in the midst of a number of social and political crises.
On Friday, the country is bracing for a U.N.-backed court to deliver a verdict on the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a truck bomb in 2005, sending the country’s fragile political system into turmoil.
It is also grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and a spiraling economic crisis, the most severe in its modern history, that has pushed many Lebanese people to protest in the streets this year, as unemployment soars. (Text report by NBC news).