BEIRUT, Lebanon - A massive explosion rocked Beirut, Lebanon Tuesday.
According to Germany's Geosciences Center, the blast struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake. It was felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean.
The exact number of dead and wounded remains unknown, with many trapped in the rubble. At 7 p.m. CT Tuesday more than 70 people were confirmed dead, and over 3,000 wounded.
The explosion occurred in the city’s port area. The cause remains under investigation.
“So, what we have from the Lebanese Interior Ministry are claims that Lebanese customs was storing highly flammable chemical materials either on a ship just off the port or in a storage facility in the port complex.” said Emily Hawthorne, Middle East and North Africa Analyst for Stratfor, an Austin-based geopolitical intelligence platform.
Abbas Ibrahim, Chief of Lebanese General Security, told the Associated Press the explosion may have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship “some time ago” and stored at the port.
Lebanese television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate. According to the AP “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.”
The explosion sparked fires that burned through the evening. It overturned cars, and sent shockwaves through the city. Hadi Nasrallah describes riding in the back of a cab.
“I saw something flash and I couldn't hear anymore. I looked at the taxi driver, I wanted to make sure that he was experiencing the same thing as me. So, I knew there was not something wrong with me. He stopped the car and he looked back at me and then suddenly we heard a very loud explosion. The glass shattered all over the car, the cars around us, the buildings, all the glass just went down. It was raining glass all over the city of Beirut." he told FOX.
With rolling blackouts and COVID-19, hospital systems are strained. Some hospitals were damaged in the blast. They are now pleading for aid, generators, and blood donations.
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“Any aid that results to help Lebanon, just heal the immediate wounds from this catastrophe -- that will be a drop in the bucket compared to what Lebanon needs,” said Hawthorne, explaining that the explosion rocked an already strained country.
Lebanon is battling sectarian, and international conflict, inflation, and poverty. “The country is in the midst of easily it's most difficult financial crisis since the civil war that ended decades ago,” said Hawthorne.
“When you have incidents like this, it does point to the potential for there to be corruption associated with groups that were in charge of managing the port. It could point to negligence on the part of some government body, some government offices, and an incident like this that has such a human toll is gonna increase Lebanese public anger against the government,” she explained.
The U.S. embassy in Lebanon put out a security alert saying there are reports of toxic gases released in this explosion. They are asking anyone in the area to stay indoors and wear a mask if possible.
KTBC reported this story from Austin, Texas.