Huge Explosion In Lebanon’s Capital Beirut, Several Killed

Lebanese media published images of people trapped under the rubble, many bloody, after the massive explosions in the port area, the cause of which was not immediately known.

Beirut: Two huge explosions shook the Lebanese capital’s port on Tuesday, killing and injuring dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the Beirut sky.

Video footage of the second explosion showed a huge orange fireball that dwarfed nearby buildings and sent out a devastating tornado-like shock wave that ripped through the city.

“We heard an explosion, then we saw the mushroom,” said a resident who witnessed the second deafening explosion from her balcony in the city’s Mansourieh district.

“The force of the blast threw us back into the apartment,” she said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said all the stores in the Hamra business district had been damaged, with entire store windows destroyed, windows smashed and many cars smashed.

Injured people were walking down the street, while outside the Clemenceau Medical Center, dozens of injured, many covered in blood, rushed to the center, including children. The destroyed cars had been abandoned on the street with their inflated airbags. A huge cloud of black smoke enveloped the entire port area, the AFP correspondent said.

The port area was cordoned off by security forces, allowing access only to a series of ambulances, fire trucks, and people whose family members worked within the devastated area. A huge fire was burning in the port, where ambulances drove the wounded away and their sirens howled. The explosions were heard as far away as Nicosia, on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, 240 kilometers (150 miles) away.

– ‘Like an earthquake’ –

“The buildings are shaking,” one resident tweeted, while another wrote, “A huge, deafening explosion engulfed Beirut. I heard it from miles away.”

Online images from the office of a Lebanese newspaper showed busted windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior panels.

The explosions came at a time when Lebanon is suffering its worst economic crisis in decades, which has left almost half the population in poverty.

Lebanon’s economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting against the dollar, businesses closing en masse and poverty rising at the same alarming rate as unemployment. The blasts also come as Lebanon awaits the verdict on Friday over the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, killed in a major truck bomb attack.

Four suspected members of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement are being tried in absentia in a court in the Netherlands for the massive Beirut bombing that killed Sunni billionaire Hariri and 21 others. A woman in the city center told AFP on Tuesday: “It felt like an earthquake … I felt it was bigger than the explosion in the murder of Rafic Hariri in 2005.”

Tensions have also escalated with neighboring Israel, after Israel said it was thwarting an infiltration attempt by up to five Hezbollah gunmen, a claim denied by the Lebanon-based group and backed by Iran.

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