A spectacular fire and massive explosion that briefly sent a mushroom cloud over the city rocked a port area in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday evening, killing at least 100 people and wounding more than 4,000.
The force of the blast, which was heard 180 miles away on the island of Cyprus, came at a time already fraught with economic and political turmoil for Lebanon, sparking immediate speculation on the cause of the conflagration.
The cause of the blast remains unknown but Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it could have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship and stored at a nearby port. Early reports from local media claimed that a fireworks warehouse was involved after multiple cellphone videos showed sparks and flashes emerging from a giant column of smoke before the gigantic eruption.
Israel, which has clashed repeatedly with the Beirut-based Shiite Hezbollah movement in recent months, immediately issued a statement says it had “nothing to do” with the explosion, which sparked additional fires, blew out windows, caused buildings to collapse and overturned cars.
Beirut, which sits nearly 270 miles north of Jerusalem, has previously seen conflict and bombings by Israel. But Tuesday’s explosion appeared to be a homegrown disaster, only adding to the tensions in a country that has long been an economic engine of the Arab world.
“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the [1975-1990 civil war],” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 yards from the port. He told The Associated Press that he was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.
Lebanese leaders appeared to be focused on dangerous and explosive materials stored in the port