Updated at 2:24 p.m. ET
A huge explosion rocked Beirut Tuesday, shattering windows and damaging buildings across a wide swath of the city. The blast sent a huge mushroom cloud into the sky, seemingly emanating from a spot where a fire had been burning.
The dramatic explosion was caught on numerous videos by people who had been filming a fire that was burning at an industrial port in Lebanon’s capital.
The extent of the casualties caused by the blast wasn’t immediately clear. The Lebanese Red Cross says it is receiving “thousands of calls” on its emergency line and is imploring people to use the line “only for critical and severe cases.”
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Early reports suggest the explosion was triggered by a fire at a large fireworks warehouse. Some of the video recordings show what looked to be flashes of smaller explosions before the larger blast, which generated an enormous shock wave.
Images from the scene show entire blocks of buildings were wrecked along the port, their structural supports crumpled by the blast. Numerous fires were started, sending black smoke into the sky.
The damage is so severe, according to LBCI Lebanon News, that military bulldozers had to clear roadways for firefighters and ambulances to reach the devastated area in the port.
Video shows the devastation at Beirut Port pic.twitter.com/bvHqihhJp4
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“Residents in the city’s upmarket Christian majority neighborhood, Gemmayzeh told NPR almost every building looked damaged by the explosion,” NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports.
Hours after the blast, hospitals are reportedly overwhelmed, and authorities are urging residents to donate blood.
Photos from the aftermath show paramedics and emergency crews tending to people with a range of injuries, including many who were cut by flying glass.
Absolute chaos in #Beirut. Shattered shop fronts, injured people staggering around, alarms going off, ambulances trying to get to hospitals, the floor is glistening with shattered glass. In all my years of covering wars I have never experienced a blast like this. #Lebanon pic.twitter.com/znMLkOAzXB
— Bel Trew (@Beltrew) August 4, 2020
Lebanon’s state news agency NNA says the explosion followed a fire at the Beirut’s port. It adds that the explosions “reverberated in the capital and the suburbs, and left behind great damages to the surrounding buildings and a considerable number of wounded.”
Evacuations are underway in the area, the agency added.
To help deal with the catastrophe, the Lebanese Red Cross says it has sent all available ambulances from at least three other parts of the country to Beirut, “to support with rescue and evacuation of patients.”
President Michel Aoun is ordering Lebanon’s armed forces to conduct patrols in affected parts of the capital and its suburbs to control security, and to aid recovery efforts.
In addition to the casualties and structural damage, the explosion at Beirut’s vital port threatens to deepen Lebanon’s dire economic crisis. As journalist Habib Battah notes, the port handles billons of dollars’ worth of imports, “including national wheat silos.”
“Homes shattered for miles,” Batah says. “Damages will be massive and could not come at worse time when everyone is broke and hungry.”
Battah says his “whole body” was moved by the explosion’s shock wave — despite being 10 miles away from the port.