At least 73 people were killed and over thousands injured in two huge explosions that rocked Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday evening, according to the health ministry.
The second blast sent an enormous orange fireball into the sky, immediately followed by a tornado-like shockwave that flattened the port and swept the city, shattering windows kilometres (miles) away.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that 2,750 tonnes of the agricultural fertiliser ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years in a portside warehouse had blown up, sparking “a disaster in every sense of the word”.
Bloodied and dazed wounded people stumbled among the debris, glass shards and burning buildings in central Beirut as the health ministry reported more than 3,700 injured and many feared dead across wide parts of the country’s biggest city.
Diab further said, “What happened today will not pass without accountability”.
“Those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price”, the prime minister added.
The blasts were so massive they shook the entire city and could be heard throughout the small country, and as far away as Nicosia on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 240 kilometres (150 miles) away.
General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said that the “highly explosive material” had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, just minutes walk from Beirut’s shopping and nightlife districts.
Hospitals are already struggling with the country’s coronavirus outbreak were overwhelmed by the influx of wounded people and the country’s Red Cross called for urgent blood donations.
As the national defence council declared Beirut a disaster zone, Diab appealed to Lebanon’s allies to “stand by” the country and “help us treat these deep wounds”.
The United States and other countries also expressed grief and condolences to the victim.
A huge blaze sent up black smoke from the port area, as helicopters dumped water on burning buildings.
The explosions hit a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades which has left nearly half of the population in poverty, as well as from the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the women said that the blast “felt like an earthquake” and “bigger than the explosion in the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005”, AFP reported.
In 2013, a powerful car bombs exploded outside two Sunni mosques in a Lebanese city riven by strife over the war in neighbouring Syria that left 42 people and hundreds wounded.
(With inputs from agency)