A massive explosion rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings, and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital, per the AP. The health ministry says the preliminary toll is 50 dead and 2,750 wounded. The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis: Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.
- As for the cause, the head of Lebanese General Security said highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port may have triggered the blast. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate. The AP notes witnesses reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.
- From Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud, per the Guardian: “This reminds me of what happened in Japan, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve never seen damage of this size and width, and so catastrophic. This is a national catastrophe. This is a problem for Lebanon, and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it."
- “It was like a nuclear explosion,” said Walid Abdo, a 43-year-old school teacher. 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.
- One witness said that while driving past the port he saw a fire and then felt a blast so strong the highway lifted.
- The blast was stunning even for a city that has been shaken by civil war, suicide bombings, and bombardment by Israel. It could be heard and felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean. Miles from the port, balconies were knocked down, windows shattered, and streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with wrecked cars.
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