BEIRUT (Reuters) – A huge explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 10 people, injured hundreds and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse, witnesses and security sources said.
The most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years shook the ground, leaving some residents thinking an earthquake had struck. Dazed and weeping, some of them wounded, people walked through streets checking to see if relatives were hurt.
The blast occurred in the city’s port area, where there were warehouses housing explosives, Lebanon’s state news agency NNA and two security sources said. A third security source said there were chemicals stored in the area.
Footage of the blast shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast. Those filming what initially appeared to be a big blaze were thrown backwards by the shock of the explosion.
At least 10 bodies were taken to hospitals, a security source and a medical source told Reuters. The Lebanese Red Cross said hundreds of people were taken hospitals for treatment.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze that set off the blast or what kind of explosives were in the warehouses.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel had nothing to do with the blast.
The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.
“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” said a Reuters witness.
The health minister told Reuters there was a “very high number” of injured. Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded.
Another Reuters witness said she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames and black smoke: “All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.”
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what the cause was, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any U.N. personnel.
“We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether it’s accidental or manmade act,” he said.
The U.S. Pentagon said: “We are aware of the explosion and are concerned for the potential loss of life due to such a massive explosion.”
In Cyprus, an island lying west of Lebanon, residents reported two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.