A large blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000 others, the health minister says. The head of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettana also told Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International that there are over 4,000 people injured, some in a serious condition, and that the number of fatalities may reach 100. Some victims are still trapped under rubble, Kettana said.

Videos show smoke billowing from a fire, then a mushroom cloud following the blast at the city’s port. Officials are blaming highly explosive materials stored in a warehouse for six years.

President Michel Aoun tweeted it was “unacceptable” that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored unsafely.

An investigation is under way to find the exact trigger for the explosion. Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council said those responsible would face the “maximum punishment” possible.

Hospitals are said to be overwhelmed and many buildings have been destroyed.

President Aoun declared a three-day mourning period, and said the government would release 100 billion lira (£50.5m; $66m) of emergency funds.

Beirut has awoken to a new sense of vulnerability this morning the day after one of the most shocking events to have struck the city. Tired emergency workers trudged through the pre dawn gloom, some holding sledgehammers, others carrying water. A carpark in the Gemmayze district had been turned into a triage centre. Orange plastic stretchers, slick with blood were lined up from one side to the other.

As a ravaged city slowly picks up the pieces, the overwhelming question – how could this happen? – is being asked in evermore strident terms. If this was, as is now increasingly suspected, a catastrophic industrial accident – stemming from breathtaking negligence, who will pay the price?

Politicians, already at odds with vast parts of Lebanese society have pledged to fix up to a million or more windows shattered in the blast. With their credibility at an all time low among voters ravaged by an economic implosion and a coronavirus lockdown that is amplifying a nationwide collapse, few seem inclined to believe their leaders.

“If any of them will hold each other to account, I might change my mind,” said a shop worker, Khaled Qudsi. “But you can bet your life that if any of their commercial interests were tied up to this accident, it will be swept away and blamed on a straw man.”

Several countries are now dispatching emergency workers and medical staff to help Lebanon recover from the disaster.

France says it is sending two planes with dozens of emergency workers, a mobile medical unit and 15 tons of aid. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office says the aid should allow for the treatment of about 500 victims. French peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon, a former French protectorate, have been helping since the explosions, Macron’s office said.

Jordan says a military field hospital including all necessary personnel will be dispatched, according to the Royal Court, while Egypt has opened a field hospital in Beirut to receive the wounded.

Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says Lebanon has accepted an offer to send a team of 37 rescuers with sniffer dogs to Beirut. Denmark also says it is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, and Greece says it is ready to help Lebanese authorities with all means at its disposal.

One of the victims of the blast.

The blast destroyed crucial grain silos at the port, which are thought to have stored around 85% of the country’s grain.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency quoted Raoul Nehme, the minister of economy and trade, as saying that all the wheat stored at the facility had been contaminated and couldn’t be used. However, he insisted Lebanon had enough wheat for its immediate needs. Nehme said Lebanon also would import more wheat.

Lebanon depends on imports for about 80% of its wheat supply, according to Associated Press.

Lebanese prime minister Hassan Diab, in a short televised speech, has appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the nation, saying: “We are witnessing a real catastrophe.”

He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price, without commenting on the cause, the Associated Press has reported.

Smoke was still rising from the port this morning. Major downtown streets are littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades blown out.

Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, has blamed today’s catastrophe on the explosion of 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make fertilisers and explosives. The same highly explosive compound was also involved in Tianjin, a major port city 70 miles south-east of the capital, Beijing.

 
 

On the night of 12 August 2015, a series of cataclysmic detonations rocked an area of warehouses where large quantities of hazardous chemicals, also including sodium cyanide and potassium nitrate, were being stored, in some cases illegally.

Chinese authorities later claimed the first explosion had been triggered after the heat of summer caused a highly flammable compound called nitrocellulose to spontaneously ignite. Nearby stores of ammonium nitrate then caught fire and exploded.

Firefighters who rushed to the scene reportedly attempted to extinguish the initial blaze with water – only to inadvertently exacerbate the situation because of the presence of hazardous flammable chemicals. The majority of those killed were firefighters, including at least one teenager.

Such was the force of the Tianjin explosions that they registered as small earthquakes. Then, as now, witnesses filmed apocalyptic footage showing the scale of the inferno.

Just when everything was returning to normal from COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, then this. What could be the true cause of this blast that swept off Beirut?