A massive explosion has rocked Lebanon’s capital Beirut, killing at least 78 people, injuring almost 4,000, flattening much of the port, and sending a shock wave that damaged buildings across the city.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one Australian had been killed and Australia’s embassy had been “impacted significantly” in the explosion.
“We can report all of the staff there are well, but the building that the embassy is in has been significantly compromised. I’m pleased that apart from some cuts and scratches, our staff are all OK,” he said.
The explosion destroyed homes, offices and other buildings around the port district.
Officials said they expected the death toll to rise further as emergency workers dug through rubble to rescue people and remove the dead.
It is the most powerful explosion in years to hit Beirut, a city on the Mediterranean Sea home to roughly 2.2 million people, which is already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.
Many have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the US dollar and many have been thrown into poverty.
Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has declared three days of national mourning.
He said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, which was “unacceptable”.
An orange-coloured cloud was seen over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab has appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation.
He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port would pay the price, without commenting on the cause.
Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said the incident might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port.
The explosion struck with the force of a magnitude 3.5 earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ.
There are reports the blast was felt in Cyprus, an island nation more than 160 kilometres away.
At the scene, the Governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, told Sky News Arabia he had come looking for a team of firefighters who disappeared in the explosion.