Beirut: Explosion rocks city with 400 reported injured

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Massive explosion in Beirut

At least 400 people hurt in blast taken to area hospital, nurse says

Around 400 injured people have been taken to the emergency unit of the Hotel Dieu hospital after a blast rocked Beirut on Tuesday, a registered nurse on duty at the facility told CNN

The severity of the injuries was not immediately clear.

It is not yet clear what caused the explosion in the port area of the city. Video posted online showed a large mushroom cloud and destroyed buildings.

Hospitals are said to be overwhelmed by casualties.

It comes at a sensitive time with the country’s economic collapse reigniting old tensions.

Tensions are also high ahead of the verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-PM Rafik Hariri in 2005. A UN tribunal is due to issue its verdict in the trial of four suspects in the murder by car bomb of Hariri on Friday.

Lebanon’s health minister, Hamad Hasan, has spoken of many injuries and extensive damage.

Reuters news agency quotes sources as saying 10 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage.

The cause of the explosion is still not known, but some reports suggest it may have been an accident. Lebanon’s National News Agency reported a fire breaking out at what it called an explosives depot at the port.

aftermath of blast in Beirut

Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble. A witness described the first explosion as deafening. Video footage showed wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings.

The latest reports come amid political tension in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling the worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

There has also been tension on the border with Israel, which said last week that it had thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to infiltrate Israeli territory.

Shock and anxiety

By Sebastian Usher, BBC Arab affairs analyst

The videos and images not just of the massive cloud of smoke erupting in Beirut but the damage and devastation it’s caused kilometres away have triggered a new wave of shock and anxiety in Lebanon, which is already teetering on the brink of a catastrophic economic collapse.

Just hours before the blast, anti-government protesters had been scuffling with the security forces outside the ministry of energy, demanding yet again accountability from the country’s leaders.

There have been grave warnings of hunger in the streets or a reigniting of sectarian conflict if the economy worsens.

And the blast will remind many of the bomb that killed Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese will be hoping that this latest blast will remain a human tragedy – an accident – and not a premeditated act.

The explosion could be felt 250k away

The Independent Scientific Organisation and provider of real-time earthquake info said:

“We received a number of reports from Cyprus which seem related to this explosion, reporting noise and rattling windows,” EMSC tweeted. 

Several social media users also wrote on Twitter they felt the explosion in their homes in Cyprus.  

“The explosion was felt in Limassol, Cyprus, our windows shaked (sic),” Elias Mavrokefalos tweeted. “I checked to see if we were being bombed,” another Limassol resident tweeted. Another person said she also heard the explosion and felt a “light tremor” in the city of Nicosia. 

Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides also tweeted that he’s in “communication with the Lebanese government and have informed of Cyprus’ immediate readiness to assist Lebanon.”

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