73 dead and 3,700 injured in explosions in Beirut
Two violent explosions in the port of Beirut left at least 73 dead and 3,700 wounded on Tuesday in what the Health Minister called a catastrophe in every way.
This is a provisional count, according to the ministry's spokesman, Reda Moussaoui. The previous one was 50 dead and 2,750 wounded.
Beirut was declared a "disaster area," the Lebanese High Defense Council announced.
It is a catastrophe in every way, regretted Health Minister Hamad Hassan when questioned on television when visiting a hospital. The hospitals in the capital are all full of wounded, he stressed, before asking that others affected be transferred to hospital centers on the outskirts of the city.
Earlier, the director general of General Security, Abas Ibrahim, had said that the explosions could be due to highly explosive materials confiscated for years, but added that the investigation will determine the exact nature of the incident.
I call on all friendly countries and brother countries that love Lebanon to stand by their side and help us heal our deep wounds, said Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Videos broadcast on social media showed a first explosion followed by another that caused a gigantic plume of smoke. The deflagrations shook neighboring buildings and caused glass to break several kilometers around.
President Michel Aoun called an urgent meeting of the Higher Defense Council and the Prime Minister decreed a day of national mourning for this Wednesday.
It is a catastrophe inside (the port). There are corpses on the floor. Ambulances are taking the bodies, a soldier near the place told AFP.
Local media released images of people trapped in the rubble, some covered in blood.
A ship moored in the port was on fire, AFP journalists found. An officer asked journalists to stay away from the sector, fearing an explosion of fuel from the ship.
Soldiers from the UN mission in Lebanon (Finul), whose ship was anchored in the port of Beirut, were seriously injured, Finul announced Tuesday night.
The injured seafarers, some of whom were seriously injured, were evacuated to the nearest hospitals. No information was provided on the identity and nationality of the victims.
We are with the Lebanese people and government and ready to provide assistance, added Finul, a multinational peacekeeping force present in Lebanon since 1978.
The port sector has been cordoned off by the security forces, who only allow civil defense personnel, ambulances and firefighters to pass, according to AFP journalists at the entrance to the port.
In the surroundings, damage and destruction is important.
Two hours after the explosion, the flames were still alive in the area. A helicopter carried sea water to put out the fires.
We have seen a little smoke and then an explosion. And then a (smoke) mushroom. The force of the explosions has propelled us back into the apartment, says a resident of the Manssouriyeh neighborhood, who saw the explosion from his balcony, several kilometers from the port.
After the explosions, numerous inhabitants, some of them injured, walked the streets towards the hospitals. In front of the Clémenceau medical center, dozens of wounded, including minors, covered in blood, were waiting to be treated, according to an AFP journalist.
Almost all the windows of the shops in the Hamra, Badaro and Hazmieh neighborhoods exploded, as did the car windows.
In the streets there were abandoned vehicles with inflated airbags.
According to witnesses, the deflagrations were heard even in the coastal city of Larnaca, in Cyprus, more than 200 km from the Lebanese coast.
On February 14, 2005, a spectacular attack caused by a van packed with explosives exploded against the convoy of then Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, killing 21 people and leaving more than 200 wounded. The deflagration caused flames several meters high and smashed the windows of buildings located within a half-kilometer radius.
On Friday, the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (TSL) plans to announce the verdict after the trial of four men, all suspected members of the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah, accused of having participated in the murder of Rafic Hariri.
Lebanon is experiencing the worst economic crisis in decades, marked by an unprecedented currency depreciation, hyperinflation and massive layoffs that have fueled social unrest for several months.