BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A Lebanese Red Cross official said at least 100 people have been killed and more than 4,000 wounded in a huge explosion that rocked Beirut.
The blast Tuesday evening flattened much of the the city's port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. Eyewitness said the scenes looked "like an apocalypse."
“It was like a nuclear explosion,” said Walid Abdo, a 43-year-old school teacher in the neighborhood of Gemayzeh near Beirut.
Hours later, ambulances still carried away the wounded as army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.
The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis.
Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.
The cause of the blast was not immediately known.
There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port, according to Lebanese state news agency NNA.
Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security later said it might have been caused by "highly explosive materials" that were confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.
An Israeli government official said Israel "had nothing to do" with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on "foreign reports."
The blast was stunning even for a city that has seen civil war, suicide bombings and bombardment by Israel. It could be heard and felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean.
"It was a real horror show. I haven't seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war," said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 meters from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.