It is not yet clear what caused the explosion in the city’s port region in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, which has caused widespread damage and injured hundreds of people, the Red Cross says.
The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon with an economic crisis reigniting old divisions. Tensions are also high ahead of Friday’s verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Lebanon’s health minister, Hamad Hasan, has spoken of many injuries and extensive damage, and the Lebanese Red Cross says hundreds of people have been taken to hospital.
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 before the explosion.
According to an eyewitness, Hadi reporting to BBC
I saw the fire, but I didn’t yet know there was going to be an explosion. We went inside. Suddenly I lost my hearing because apparently I was too close. I lost my hearing for a few seconds, I knew something was wrong.
And then suddenly the glass just shattered all over the car, the cars around us, the shops, the stores, the buildings. Just glass going down from all over the building.
Literally all over Beirut, people were calling each other from different areas kilometres away and they were experiencing the same thing: broken glass, buildings shaking, a loud explosion.
Actually we were shocked because usually when it happens, just one area will experience those happenings after an explosion, but this time it was all of Beirut, even areas outside of Beirut.
The Lebanese will be hoping that this latest blast will remain a human tragedy – an accident – and not a premeditated act.