Death toll in Tuesday’s warehouse explosion in Beirut, Lebanon has reached 100, with many people reportedly still missing.
Power explosion rocked and shook the city on Tuesday, destroying several houses, as the atmosphere was lit with fire and thick smokes.
It was a dark day in Beirut as the quiet ambience was rudely shaken by the explosion, with 4,000 people also injured.
President Michel Aoun was quoted as saying that the explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stored for six years at the port without safety measures, which he said was “unacceptable”.
He called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Officials did not say what caused the blaze that set off the blast. A security source and media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a hole in the warehouse.
“It’s like a war zone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting damage on Wednesday that he estimated would cost billions of dollars.
“This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon.”
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, said at least 100 people had been killed.
“We are still sweeping the area. There could still be victims. I hope not,” he said.
Kettani earlier told broadcaster LBCI that the Red Cross was coordinating with the health ministry to set up morgues because hospitals were overwhelmed.
According to Reuters, hours after the blast, which went off shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.
The blast was heard throughout Cyprus, which is about 100 miles (160 km) away.
It revived memories of a 1975-90 civil war and its aftermath, when Lebanese endured heavy shelling, car bombings and Israeli air raids. Some residents thought an earthquake had struck.
“There are many people missing. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity,” Health Minister Hamad Hasan told Reuters late on Tuesday.
Footage of the explosion posted on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port, followed by an enormous blast, sending a white cloud and a fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (one mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.