Lebanese President Michel Aoun is calling on the Cabinet to declare a two-week state of emergency in Beirut after a massive explosion early Tuesday destroyed much of the city’s port, killing at least 70 and injuring more than 3,500.
Although the official cause of the blast is unknown, Aoun tweeted: “I will not be satisfied until we find the person responsible for what happened to hold him accountable and impose the most severe penalties on him, because it is unacceptable that a shipment of ‘ammonium nitrate’ estimated at 2750 tons has been present for 6 years in a warehouse without taking preventive measures that endanger the safety of citizens.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab met Tuesday night with the Supreme Council of Defense, expressing his support for those he calls “martyrs” and a speedy recovery for the wounded. He also called for an investigative committee to be formed immediately.
Diab has proclaimed Wednesday a day of mourning.
Condolences and support for the Lebanese people have poured in from all over the world, including neighboring Israel which immediately said it had “nothing to do” with the explosion. Relations between Israel and Lebanon are tense because the Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah is massed along the southern border with Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, “I’d like to extend my deepest condolences to all those affected by the massive explosion at the port of Beirut today. We are closely monitoring and stand ready to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this tragedy."
U.S. President Donald Trump said during Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing at the White House, “The United States stands ready to assist Lebanon. We will be there to help. It looks like a terrible attack."
Trump also said U.S. military officials he had spoken with thought the explosion was “a bomb of some kind.”
The Department of Defense, when asked about Trump’s comment, referred VOA to the White House.
Much of the port of Beirut was destroyed, and buildings and parked cars across the Lebanese capital were heavily damaged.
Ambulances carried the wounded away from the area hours after the blast.
A Lebanese television station said people reported seeing an orange-colored cloud hovering over the blast site shortly after the explosion. Experts say such clouds usually accompany blasts involving nitrates.
Witnesses said Tuesday’s disaster began with a series of small explosions that sounded like firecrackers, followed by a huge blast that sent a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke and flame over the port.
In Photos: Beirut Explosion
Pictures show dazed victims covered with blood wandering the area, some with their clothes shredded.
“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war,” one man said.
Others in the downtown area reported shattered windows in almost every structure, balconies torn off the sides of buildings and burned-out cars.
One man called Lebanon a “cursed” country, as it is suffering from the coronavirus outbreak and a shattered economy after decades of wars, terrorism and assassinations.
Jeff Seldin, national security correspondent, and Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.