Multiple outlets are reporting a large explosion in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
Twitter videos posted Tuesday appeared to show a massive blast near Beirut’s port, one of the busiest in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Associated Press reported “widespread destruction” and casualties, but the full scope of the damage wasn’t immediately clear.
According to the country’s health minister, the blast left scores of casualties and inflicted severe damage on the city.
“I have never in my life seen disaster this big, this grand, this catastrophic,” said Beiruit’s governor, Marwan Abboud, before he broke down crying. “This is a national catastrophe. This a disaster for Lebanon. We don’t know how we’re going to recover from this. … We need to stay strong and we need to be courageous, but this, our people have been through so much.”
Photos and videos taken in the immediate aftermath showed injured civilians and destroyed buildings. People reported feeling the blast from as far away as Cyprus, which is hundreds of miles from Lebanon.
Lebanon’s health care system is already being outstretched by chronic underfunding and a surge in coronavirus cases. Doctors and nurses had already warned of a shortage of medical supplies, including anesthesia drugs and sutures, the AP reported last week. The American University of Beirut Medical Center, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Middle East, laid off hundreds of workers in recent weeks.
Some injured people were turned away by hospitals because the buildings were damaged in the blast or already at capacity, Agence France-Presse reported.
Lebanon is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, with its currency losing more than 80% of its value and unemployment soaring, pushing millions of people into poverty.
The crisis began last year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit: Lebanon has long relied on reserves of foreign currency, particularly the U.S. dollar, for essential imports, but political leaders and banks failed to maintain that stock or to develop the economy to produce exports and earn money. The virus-related global economic slowdown further hurt Lebanon’s economy and slashed inflows of money from Lebanese working abroad who suddenly faced reduced circumstances.
Last fall, tens of thousands of protesters staged weeks of largely peaceful demonstrations against Lebanon’s ruling elite over their failure to deliver basic services and to prevent the financial crunch. Then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in response.
One video posted after the explosion on Tuesday showed windows at Beirut Souks, an upscale shopping center near the area where many of the protests took place, completely blown out.
Lebanon’s political system is deeply fractured, particularly along ethnic and religious lines, a legacy of French colonialism that is now preserved in the country’s laws and has produced years of open conflict, notably a civil war between 1975 and 1990.
Hariri, a wealthy member of the Sunni Muslim community, is aligned with the U.S. and its regional partners like Saudi Arabia. The country’s military — which is one of the few Lebanese factions that includes members of nearly all of the country’s various ethnic and religious groups — receives significant American support.
Rowaida Abdelaziz contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.