Rescue workers in Lebanon are searching for more than a hundred people who are missing after a huge explosion devastated the port are of the capital Beirut on Tuesday.
The blast killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000 others. The whole city was shaken by the explosion and a mushroom cloud could be seen spreading over the port area. President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.
Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertiliser in agriculture and as an explosive. He scheduled an urgent cabinet meeting for Wednesday, and said a two-week state of emergency should be declared. The country will observe an official period of mourning for three days from Wednesday.
The explosion occurred just after 18:00 (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday after a fire at the port. Eyewitness Hadi Nasrallah says that he saw the fire but did not expect the blast. “I lost my hearing for a few seconds, I knew something was wrong, and then suddenly the glass just shattered all over the car, the cars around us, the shops, the stores, the buildings. Just glass going down from all over the building.”.
The BBC’s Lina Sinjab said she could feel the wave of the explosion from where she was, a five-minute drive from the port area . “My building was shaking, it was about to fall, all windows were forced open,” she said. The blast was also felt 240km (150 miles) away on the island of Cyprus, in the eastern Mediterranean, with people there saying they thought it was an earthquake. Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble and video footage showed wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings. Hospitals were said to be overwhelmed.
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, described it as a “huge catastrophe”, adding: “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”
His organisation said more than 100 people had died and that a search and rescue operations was still under way to locate the more than 100 people missing.
Journalist Sunniva Rose said there was still smoke going up into the sky late into the evening. “The whole city was black. It was very hard to walk around, people were covered in blood. I saw an 86-year-old woman being treated by a doctor who had just run out of his home with a first aid kit.”