Dozens of people are feared dead and hundreds have been wounded in a massive explosion at the port in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.
The exact cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. Mohammed Fahmi, Lebanon’s interior minister, said it appeared to have been caused by ammonium nitrate that was stored in a warehouse at the port.
Among the dead is the Secretary-General of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, the party has announced.
The headquarters of the Kataeb Party, one of the oldest parties in the country, is located right next to the port.
Dozens of people are trying to enter a hospital in Beirut and are being turned away, Al Jazeera’s Timour Azhari said.
“People are discussing which hospital they can get to across the city. This hospital, the Hotel-Dieu hospital has formally announced that people should stop coming here.”
“There are corridors lined with wounded, bloody people,” Azhari said.
“There are people crying. The hospital itself has sustained damage; its ceiling looks very precarious, it looks like it’s going to fall apart.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.
Lebanon’s health minister;
Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s health minister, said hundreds were wounded in the explosion. Security sources put the initial death toll at 10 but medical and rescue teams on the ground said dozens were killed.
Helicopters circling the port area were trying to extinguish a large fire.
At Hotel-Dieu hospital, dozens of people trying to enter were being turned away.
After a man was pronounced dead, a young woman told an infant child, “Youssef, dad is in heaven.” One man collapsed on the hospital floor and smacked it, while another man said “it’s a catastrophe”
Ammonium nitrate stored in the port: Interior Minister
The Lebanese Interior Minister has said that ammonium nitrate was stored in the port, which is what caused the explosion, local media reported.
He said Lebanese customs should be asked about why it was there.
Lebanon-based broadcaster Mayadeen cited the country’s customs director saying tonnes of nitrate exploded.
Several people on board an Italian ship docked near the explosion site, the Orient Queen, were wounded and taken to hospital.
“The ship is totally destroyed – the cabins the lounge, everything,” Vincenco Orlandini, a 69-year-old crew member, told Al Jazeera.
“I heard the blast and I flew to the opposite of the lobby, then I landed on the carpet and I’m lucky, I think that saved me.”
Video of the explosion shows a large column of smoke billowing from an area of the port that houses large warehouses before a large orange explosion is seen and huge dome-shaped blast wave shoots into the air.
Glass storefronts and windowpanes across the city were shattered in the explosion, while videos and pictures shared on social media showed doors ripped from their hinges and ceilings filled with gaping holes.
A civil defence worker who has worked in the sector for 20 years was in disbelief at the scale of the damage.
“I’ve seen the assassinations and the explosions but this is something else. There is something wrong here,” the worker said.
The explosion in Beirut port comes as the country faces an unprecedented financial crisis and a surging coronavirus outbreak.
Located in the heart of capital, the port is a vital piece of infrastructure used to get scarce goods in the country.
Damaged in the explosion were silos containing wheat that burned for several hours.