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At least 73 dead and 3,700 wounded in Beirut blasts

“It is a disaster in every sense of the word,” Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.

Updated Aug 4th 2020, 9:40 PM

2.54865716 Source: PA Images

TWO EXPLOSIONS HAVE rocked central Beirut, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital of Lebanon.

A civil defence official on the scene of the blast said his men had evacuated dozens to hospitals and that there were still bodies inside the port, many of them under debris.

The blast left at least 73 people dead and 3,700 injured, according to Lebanon’s health ministry. 

“It is a disaster in every sense of the word,” said Health Minister Hamad Hassan in an interview with several television channels while visiting a hospital in the Lebanese capital.

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins released a statement: “On behalf of the people of Ireland, may I extend deepest sympathies with the people of Beirut.

Ireland and Lebanon have a longstanding relationship, which has included the presence of Irish troops on peacekeeping missions, and valuable relationships with villages and communities in Lebanon.

“On the occasion of my official visit to Lebanon last October, I was happy to have the opportunity to deepen that relationship.

The hearts of the Irish people are with the Lebanese people.

“Sabina and I send our condolences to those who have lost loved ones or have otherwise been affected by the disaster.”

The cause of the blast was not immediately known, but Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port.

Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.

It was stunning even for a city that has been shaken by civil war, suicide bombings and bombardment by Israel.

Dozens of ambulances ferried the injured from the port area, where the wounded lay on the ground, Associated Press staff at the scene said. Hospitals called for blood donations.

The head of the Lebanese Red Cross told local TV there were hundreds of casualties although many were superficial wounds from broken glass.

Many videos of the explosions are being shared online, showing widespread destruction of buildings and vehicles.

Video taken by residents showed a fire raging at the port, sending up a giant column of smoke, illuminated by flashes of what appear to be fireworks. Local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved.

The fire then appeared to catch at a nearby building, triggering a more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave over the city.

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“It was like a nuclear explosion,” said Walid Abdo, a 43-year-old school teacher in the neighbourhood of Gemayzeh near Beirut.

Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said it started as small explosions like firecrackers, then the huge blast erupted and he was thrown off his feet. His clothes were torn.

Miles from the port, balconies were knocked down, windows shattered, streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with wrecked cars. Motorcyclists picked their way through traffic, carrying the injured.

2.54865227 Aftermath of a massive explosion is seen in in Beirut. Source: Hassan Ammar/AP

Lebanon’s economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting against the dollar, businesses closing en masse and poverty soaring at the same alarming rate as unemployment.

The explosions also come as Lebanon awaits the verdict on Friday on the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, killed in a huge truck bomb attack.

Four alleged members of the Shiite Muslim fundamentalist group Hezbollah are on trial in absentia at the court in the Netherlands over the huge Beirut suicide bombing that killed Sunni billionaire Hariri and 21 other people.

A woman in the city centre told AFP: “It felt like an earthquake … I felt it was bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005.”

© AFP 2020 with reporting from Órla Ryan

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