Beirut: On Tuesday, two huge explosions occurred in the port of the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people, killing buildings, and emitting thick smoke into the skies of Beirut.
Video footage of the second explosion showed that a huge orange fireball dwarfs nearby buildings and sent a devastating tornado-like shock wave through the city.
“We heard an explosion, then we saw the mushroom,” said one resident who witnessed the second, deafening explosion from her balcony in the city s Mansourieh district.
“The force of the blast threw us backwards into the apartment,” she said.
The Lebanese media reported photos of many people trapped in the rubble after the explosion. Many people shed blood. The reason is not clear.
A soldier at the port, who asked not to be named, told AFP: “It s a catastrophe inside. There are corpses on the ground. Ambulances are still lifting the dead.”
The official National News Agency confirmed deaths in the blast, without citing a number.
The explosions “caused dozens of injuries,” a security source said.
An Agence France-Presse reporter said that every store in the Hamra business district was damaged, the entire store was destroyed, the windows were broken, and many cars were destroyed.
The injured were walking up and down the street, and outside the Clemenceau Medical Center, dozens of injured people were rushing to the shelter, including children, many of whom were covered in blood.
The destroyed car was abandoned on the street and the airbag inflated.
The helicopter flew up and poured water on the burning building, and a huge cloud of black smoke engulfed the entire port area.
The port area was blocked by security forces and only allowed access to a series of ambulances, fire engines and relatives working in the disaster area, while others screamed and were allowed to pass.
The port fire was burning, the ambulance was driving away the injured, and the sirens were crying.
The explosion was heard far away from Nicosia, 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
Benjamin Strick of Bellingcat, an investigative website, said on Twitter that the explosion appeared to be concentrated in the center of a 130-meter (420-foot) gray warehouse, opposite a pier in the port area.
The video still image shows that the intense blazing fireball rises to a height higher than the row of towering storage islands, and the subsequent clouds rush to the sky.
“Buildings are shaking,” tweeted one resident, while another wrote: “An enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away.”
Online footage from a Lebanese newspaper office showed blown out windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior panelling.
The explosions hit Lebanon as it suffers its worst economic crisis in decades which has left nearly half of the population in poverty.
The country s economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting against the dollar, businesses closing en masse and poverty soaring at the same alarming rate as unemployment.
The country s worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war has sparked months of street demonstrations against the government.
The explosions also come as Lebanon awaits a UN tribunal s verdict Friday on the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, killed in a huge truck bomb attack.
Four alleged members of the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah are on trial in absentia at a court in the Netherlands over the huge Beirut bombing that killed Sunni billionaire Hariri and 21 other people.
A woman in the city centre Tuesday told AFP: “It felt like an earthquake … I felt it was bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005”.
Tensions have also been high with neighbouring Israel, after Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt by up to five Hezbollah gunmen, a claim denied by the Lebanon-based and Iran-backed group.