A titanic explosion shook the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday, shaking buildings and sending a huge cloud of smoke over the middle of the city.
Early reports said the explosion occurred at the port of Beirut, while amateur video captured images of a blast near the shore that sent a shockwave billowing through the water.
Huge blast in Beirut just now! pic.twitter.com/hId8JhZMKV
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 4, 2020
The Daily Star of Lebanon reported there were two explosions on Tuesday morning. One of them evidently wiped out the Beirut offices of the newspaper:
BREAKING: Massive explosion in Beirut. Footage from the daily star office now in Lebanon pic.twitter.com/2uBsKP5wCH
— Ghada Alsharif (@GhadaaSharif) August 4, 2020
The explosion was powerful enough to shatter windows ten kilometers away:
— Abir Ghattas (@AbirGhattas) August 4, 2020
A Jordanian news network carried footage that clearly showed the explosion wiping out a building and shaking the entire city:
— رؤيا (@RoyaTV) August 4, 2020
As of noon Eastern time, there were no official reports of casualties, a specific target, or possible perpetrators if the explosions were deliberate bombings, but Lebanon is currently experiencing a great deal of political upheaval. Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned on Monday, warning that Lebanon was on the verge of becoming a “failed state.”
A United Nations tribunal is expected to soon issue its verdict on the investigation of four members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization for their role in 2005 the car bomb assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. One of Tuesday’s explosions occurred not far from the residence of Rafik’s son Saad Hariri, himself formerly prime minister of Lebanon.
Update 12:48 p.m. ET: Video of the area affected by the blast appeared to show many blocks in the capital city destroyed and some vehicles and bits of buildings still in flames.
This is the moment an explosion occurred in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
The explosion appeared to be centred around the city's port area containing warehouses and rippled through several areas of the capital.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) August 4, 2020
🔴 Dos explosiones en el puerto de Beirut dejan decenas de heridos. Aún se desconoce el origen de las deflagraciones, que fueron oídas en varios sectores de la ciudad y provocaron la rotura de vidrios en numerosos edificios a varios kilómetros a la redonda. 📸 AFP pic.twitter.com/zYGf9xDMZP
— Telenoche (@TelenocheUy) August 4, 2020
An Agence France-Press (AFP) reporter relayed that hospitals in the area are rejecting “injured people with blood streaming down their faces because they’re too full or damaged.”
Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the government expects a “high number of injuries” but did not yet have an accurate account of how many, or how many deaths, at press time.
Update 1:15pm Eastern: Health Minister Hasan’s initial explanation for the explosion was that a ship carrying a cargo of fireworks exploded in the Port of Beirut. Some videos taken after the first small explosion show flashes that might plausibly be from commercial fireworks, or comparable small explosive charges, popping off. Most observers do not appear satisfied with fireworks as the cause of the second, far more powerful detonation:
Looks like a fireworks depot was cohabitating with something a bit more sinister. https://t.co/pmXXksvi3u
— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) August 4, 2020
Al Jazeera News quoted the director-general of Lebanese public security stating the Beirut blast “was not a fireworks explosion, but a high-explosive material that was confiscated for years.”
Israeli intelligence has long maintained that the Port of Beirut is a key element of the Iranian-Hezbollah project to assemble and deploy advanced missiles in Lebanon. The Israelis believe one of Iran’s strategic goals is to establish domestic Lebanese production of guided missiles, thus reducing the cost and risk of shipping powerful weapons from Iran to its Hezbollah proxies.
Update 2:15pm Eastern: Sky News quoted Lebanese officials who said “at least ten people have been killed,” with hundreds more injured by debris from the explosions. Lebanese media reported hospitals dealing with a huge number of casualties and calling for urgent blood donations.
“Injuries are definitely in the hundreds. I cannot give a specific number of casualties at the moment. We are overwhelmed with cases,” a spokesman for the Lebanese Red Cross told NBC News.
Al-Arabiya News from Saudi Arabia, whose government opposes Iran and Hezbollah, reported that the explosion “occurred in a Hezbollah arms store in Beirut Port.”
Update 6:30pm Eastern: Casualty reports were updated throughout the day, with the New York Times counting at least 70 dead. Individual hospitals reported treating hundreds of injuries. The Red Cross estimated 2,500 injuries, declaring the incident a “huge catastrophe.” The Lebanese health ministry said there could be 4,000 wounded.
Among the dead identified so far was Nizar Najarian, the Lebanese Armenian secretary-general of the Christian political party Kateb. Najarian was in his office near the Port of Beirut when the explosion occurred.
The explosion was caught in a Christian service that was being streamed online due to coronavirus restrictions:
— Rayane Moussallem (@RioMoussallem) August 4, 2020
The original explanation of fireworks detonating in a warehouse was soon updated to include a massive chemical explosion, including ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut ever since it was seized from a ship years ago, according to the interior ministry. The reddish-orange cloud hovering over the blast site was cited as evidence of a nitrate explosion.
The BBC quoted Lebanese President Michel Aoun calling it “unacceptable” that some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored in unsafe conditions at the port and forgotten. The cause of the initial explosion that evidently detonated the nitrate is still under investigation.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump said the explosion “looks like a deadly attack” and said the United States “stands ready to assist Lebanon.”
An unnamed Israeli government official told the Washington Post that Israel had “no connection with the incident in Beirut, despite recent tensions with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on its northern border.” According to a statement quoted by the BBC, the Israeli government has “approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance.”
The Post also reported that Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said contact has been lost with a number of firefighters who responded to the scene.