Amid already hard times, a massive explosion shook Beirut on Tuesday, causing widespread damage both to the city’s port and elsewhere. The explosion rocked the city, sending a mushroom cloud over the sky, according to the Associated Press, and damaging buildings up to 4 kilometres away, with the rumble reaching as far as Cyprus. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, has officially declared it a day of mourning.
So far, at least 78 people are dead and more than 4,000 injured, according to reports, with numbers rising steadily. The explosion happened in the evening local time, and several hours later, the cause is still not fully known. The chief of Lebanese general security, Abbas Ibrahim, said the blast might have been caused by explosive material that was confiscated and stored at the port years ago, according to the AP. Ibrahim also called the talk of fireworks as the cause of the event "ridiculous," as the impact is far greater.
The devastation happened amid an already overwhelming time, with Lebanon’s economy facing collapse. Many in the country have already lost jobs, and the prices of goods have tripled while the value of the national currency continues to fall. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has forced people even further into poverty. All the while, tensions continue to rise with the militant organisation Hezbollah, with Lebanon facing total destabilisation.
Hospitals are now full of injured people, though they had already been at capacity due to the pandemic, and along the streets of Beirut, bodies are buried in the rubble, according to officials. Some hospitals have been hit so hard by the blasts that they’re now unable to treat people, with facilities like Roum Hospital putting out a call for spare generators to keep electricity running.
Following the blast, a representative from the Israeli government anonymously commented that Israel “had nothing to do” with it, according to the AP. Israel has also offered Lebanon humanitarian assistance, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz saying that Israel approached the government through “international security and diplomatic channels.”
When the explosion first began, initial videos posted to social media captured terrifying, loud noises and large swaths of smoke rising over the city. More videos showed a fire at the port, which then caught onto a nearby building, triggering another explosion and a shock wave. Across Beirut, broken windows, collapsed buildings, and debris now line the streets.
Emergency teams in the area including workers from the Red Cross have spent hours taking people to hospitals that have more capacity outside of the capital.
Residents all over Beirut have been shocked to the bone. “It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the [civil] war,” Marwan Ramadan, a witness who was about 500 yards from the port, told the AP. He was knocked down simply from the force of the explosion alone.
Marwan Abboud, Beirut’s governor, toured the site and broke into tears, saying, “Beirut is a devastated city.”