Blast at Beirut Port Kills More than 100, Injures 4,000
First responders worked through the night looking for survivors and evacuating the injured after a powerful explosion rocked a warehouse storing highly explosive material at a port in Beirut, Lebanon, killing more than 100 people and injuring around 4,000. The toll of casualties is expected to rise. The blast, which occurred shortly after 6 pm local time on Tuesday, shook the city, destroying numerous apartment buildings and stores, and littering the streets with debris. It sent flames and a mushroom cloud of smoke high into the sky and was heard as far away as Cyprus, 100 miles off the coast. The explosion destroyed silos where some 85% of the country’s grain was stored, raising the prospect of food shortages. President Michel Aoun said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored at the port without safety measures, a situation he called “unacceptable.” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that the chemicals had been stored at the warehouse since 2014, when they were confiscated from a cargo ship. The cabinet will meet in an emergency session on Wednesday. Officials did not say what started the fire that set off the explosion but a security source and local media reported it was started by welding work being carried out at the warehouse. Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that “those responsible will pay the price” for the disaster. A variety of sources, including Cyprus, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, sent offers of humanitarian assistance. US President Donald Trump suggested that the blast could have been an attack, but two other US officials said the information they have contradicts the president’s view. The explosion occurred three days before a UN-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four Hizbullah members who have been accused of involvement in the 2005 truck bombing that killed former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others. That incident occurred on the same waterfront, around one mile from the port.