A massive explosion ripped through central Beirut, injuring thousands of people and blowing out windows in buildings across the city.
The blast near the port in the Lebanese capital sent up a huge mushroom cloud-shaped shockwave, flipping cars and damaging distant buildings. It was felt as far as Cyprus, hundreds of miles away.
At least 25 people were killed in the blast and over 2,500 people have been wounded, Health Minister Hamad Hassan told reporters.
Footage from the scene captured the injured staggering through streets in the capital; and ambulances, cars and military vehicles packed with the wounded. One eyewitness described the scenes as "like an apocalypse."
There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port, according to NNA. The director of the general security directorate later said the blast was caused by confiscated "high explosive materials," but did not provide further details.
A red cloud hung over the city in the wake of the explosion as firefighting teams rushed to the scene to try to put out the fire. At least 10 firefighters were missing, according to the city’s governor Marwan Abboud, who said the scene reminded him of "Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"In my life I haven’t seen destruction on this scale," Abboud said. "This is a national catastrophe."
The blast comes at a tense time in Lebanon. On Friday a UN-backed panel is expected to issue a verdict on the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a move many fear will stoke sectarian tensions. The country is also in the midst of an economic meltdown, with ballooning unemployment, a tanking currency and poverty rates soaring above 50%.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman reports.
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