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Beirut Blast Kills Scores, Injures Thousands, Leaving City in Chaos

The Beirut explosion seen from a nearby balcony. Photo: Twitter / @AymanZeh

An enormous explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday afternoon killed at least 115 people and more than 4,000 others are injured. Many people are still missing.

The reason for the blast, which occurred in the region of the city’s port on the Mediterranean, is unclear at the present time.

A gigantic rust-colored mushroom cloud quickly formed over the embattled city, visible for many miles around. It was reported that the blast could be felt as far away as Cyprus.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defense Council, according to a post on Twitter. The Prime Minister had already declared Wednesday to be a day of mourning in the country.

A BBC journalist in Beirut who witnessed the carnage says that there were “many” dead bodies at the port area and there was such severe damage to the port itself that it most likely cannot function at present. The blast was felt as far away as the island nation of Cyprus, according to a Facebook post by Sophia-Michael Kontou.

According to the BBC, Lebanon’s security chief said that the blast occurred in an area where there were “highly explosive materials.” Approximately half of the entire city has been damaged by the explosion.

Al-Jazeera reports that the blast may have occurred in an area in which Ammonium nitrate was being stored and that a warehouse fire nearby sparked the explosion of the stored chemicals, which had been previously confiscated by the government and put into storage at the port.

Lebanon, which was already facing severe social upheaval and possible economic collapse, must now face the devastation of the blast and somehow begin the rebuilding process.

The country’s European-leaning political and social elite which have ruled the country for decades have been facing an onslaught recently, as they are blamed for bringing down the country economically while amassing their own wealth.

There have even been reports of hunger in the streets in this city on the Mediterranean which was once called “The Paris of the Middle East.”

It was fervently hoped at the time that at least the blast will have simply been a tragic accident, not another political bombing in a city that has seen so much sectarian conflict, including the car bombing death of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. The trial of his accused killers was to come to a conclusion this week.

CNN reported that the city was in a state of complete chaos. An eyewitness, Bachar Ghattas, was interviewed on the scene, who told the news network that it was “like an apocalypse.”

He told CNN’s Becky Anderson “Beirut port is totally destroyed… we don’t have a port.”

Lebanon’s Health Minister spoke to reporters on Wednesday, saying “We need everything to hospitalize the victims, and there is an acute shortage of everything.”

Hospitals in the city have been overwhelmed and many buildings have been razed by the blast. At present, the war-torn country is again facing a severe financial crisis, with factions vying for power.

Reuters reports that, according to an anonymous official source familiar who is privy to information coming out of the initial investigation, the government dallied for years in dealing with the vast quantities of ammonium nitrate stored at the port.

The source told interviewers from Reuters “It is negligence,” before adding that the issues surrounding the storage of the thousands of tons of the explosive material had been brought “before several committees and judges” and “nothing was done” about this impending problem.

Another informant who had knowledge of dealings at the port was quoted by Reuters as saying that a team which inspected the explosives stored there six months ago warned others at that time that the ammonium nitrate could “blow up all of Beirut” if not taken care of appropriately.

Abdullah Daher, a Lebanon-based correspondent from CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, commented that after a year of near-daily demonstrations and unrest, with new politicians elected into office who have become even more unpopular than their predecessors, “We only see things as going from bad to worse.”

This is a breaking story; more to follow.

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