Beirut explosion – Blast a fifth the size of Hiroshima kills 100 as ‘welder ignites 2,700 tons of explosive chemicals'

THE massive explosion which killed at least 100 people and left 4,000 injured in Lebanon's capital Beirut is feared to have been started by a reckless welder.

Shocking pictures show flattened buildings, the walking wounded, and a sea of rubble in the wake of the explosion which could be heard 110 miles away in Cyprus.

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More than 2,750 tons ofammonium nitrate detonated when a blaze apparently spread to the warehouse where it had been stored for six years.  

Security sources reportedly now claim a welder sparked the initial fire that in turn ignited the chemicals – causing  a blast the fifth the size of Hiroshima.

Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a fertilizer, but has also been linked to terror attacks after being used in homemade bombs.

Lebanon's General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said it had been confiscated years earlier, reportedly from a ship.

The explosion erupted next to a tall building called the Beirut Port Silos, which could be seen partially collapsed amid the rubble of nearby buildings.

The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea and rescue teams were today still trying to recover bodies.

Many of those killed were port and custom employees and people working in the area or driving through during rush hour.

Those leading the rescue effort today chillingly warned the death toll is likely to rise.

Images taken from the scene showed a thick cloud of gray smoke hovering over the Mediterranean before an enormous burst of red and orange fumes exploded into the sky.

Up to 250,000 people have also now been left homeless by the explosion which caused around £5bn of damage, claimed local reports.

At hospitals across the city people had been waiting all night for news of loved ones who had gone missing or were wounded.

Others posted requests for help online.

It is not yet known how many British nationals are among those caught up in the aftermath of a huge blast, the Foreign Office confirmed this morning.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has declared a state of emergency for Beirut for two weeks – and vowed the "harshest punishments" for those responsible for causing the explosion.

Nearby structures wereflattened, windows and doors wereblown out, cars were crushed, and fires burned as the sun set over Beirut.

Horrifying video of the explosion shows an enormous mushroom cloud over the city followed by a shockwave – with witnesses comparing it to a "nuclear bomb".

Toxic gases were been reported in the aftermath along with strange orange clouds, with the US Embassy warning any Americans in Beirut to stay inside.

Many people are feared to still be trapped under the rubble – including those trapped inside their damaged homes.

Locals woke to apocalyptic scenes this morning with smoke still rising from the port, where a towering grain silo was shattered.

Streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out.

"It's like a war zone. I'm speechless," Beirut's mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting the damage. "This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon."

The head of the country's Red Cross said: "What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe. There are victims and casualties everywhere." 

Prime Minister Hassan Diab described the disaster as a "national catastrophe" and added "those responsible will pay the price".

His wife and daughter were injured in the explosion after it damaged his residence at The Government Palace.

The deadly blast was one of the world's biggest-ever peacetime explosions.

Lebanon's health minister Hamad Hasan said the blast was a "real catastrophe".

Damage was reported up to six miles from the explosion, with windows shattered and building facades shredded by the shockwave.

Beirut's governor Marwan Abboud compared the blast to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks that killed an estimated 225,000 people.

Breaking into tears as he arrived at the scene of the disaster, he said: "I ask the Lebanese people to pull together."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK stands ready to offer "any support we can" to Lebanon – and confirmed some caught up in the blast were Brits.

He added: "The pictures and videos from Beirut tonight are shocking.

"All of my thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in this terrible incident."

International aid in the form of emergency workers and medical personnel is now heading to Lebanon.

France says it is sending two planes with dozens of emergency workers, a mobile medical unit and 15 tonnes of aid.

Emmanuel Macron's office says the aid should allow for the treatment of some 500 victims.

French peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon, a former French protectorate, have been helping since the explosions, they added.

Jordan says a military field hospital including all necessary personnel will be dispatched and Egypt has opened a field hospital in Beirut to receive the wounded.

Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says Lebanon has accepted an offer to send a team of 37 rescuers with sniffer dogs to Beirut.

Denmark says it is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, and Greece says it is ready to help Lebanese authorities with all means at its disposal.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump suggested the explosion may have been a "bomb" – describing it as a "terrible attack".

British grandmother Valerie Fakhoury, 65, from Darlington, who works at Beirut's American Community School was left with blood pouring from her head in the blast.

All staff at the British embassy in Beirut are accounted for, but some have sustained "non-life-threatening injuries".

British journalist Lizzie Porter, who lives just one mile from the scene, told the Daily Mail: "It was 6.10pm and there was a rumble like thunder.

"Then the whole apartment building shook like an earthquake."

Witness Fady Roumieh said: "It was like a nuclear bomb. The damage is so widespread and severe all over the city.

"Some buildings as far as 2km are partially collapsed. It's like a war zone. The damage is extreme. Not one glass window intact."

Red Cross spokesman Georges Kettaneh said emergency services had been "overwhelmed".

Ambulances were been called in from across the country to aid the rescue effort.

Hours after the blast, ambulances still carried away the wounded as army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

Some hospitals were too badly damaged to treat patients, with pictures showing doctors administering first aid in the street.

Initial reports had claimed the blast came from a firework storage site as video appeared to show small flashes and pops in the fire before the catastrophic explosion.

Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said the inferno started as small bursts like firecrackers.

He was then suddenly thrown off his feet as his clothes were torn apart by the force of the explosion's shockwave.

Another witness said: "Everyone dropped to the ground and I remember opening my eyes and… just seeing dust and a bunch of rubble"

And one added: "I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding.

"Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street."

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement said all of the country's political powers must to overcome the "painful catastrophe" to unite after the disaster.

American journalist Ben Wedeman reported live during the catastrophe from a partially wrecked bureau in Beirut.

He said: “This was something the likes I’ve never seen before… Initially I thought it was an earthquake.”

Hospitals are reportedly desperately requesting blood donations as the wounded stream in.

Lebanon's Health Ministry has put out a call for medics to volunteer at the "nearest place you can get to" to help treat the injured people.

Another witness said: "All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos."

UK-based charity Save the Children said its offices in Beirut, around three miles from the harbour, were badly damaged in the explosion, which shook the building and destroyed shop fronts in the neighbourhood.

The charity said: "Save the Children teams on the ground reported entire streets wiped out, with children unaccounted for as rescue teams work through destroyed buildings to get people out of the rubble.

"Residential and commercial buildings have been shattered in what is being described as the biggest explosion in Lebanon's recent history.

"Hospitals in Beirut are reporting that they are unable to treat further casualties as hundreds of beds immediately filled up following the blast.

"A further hospital in the capital has been completely decimated. The military have deployed to rescue those caught in the wreckage, with medical personnel treating casualties on the streets."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said in a tweet: "The images of explosions in Beirut are deeply worrying.

"Our thoughts are with those affected, the emergency services and the people of Lebanon."

Former chancellor Sajid Javid tweeted to say his "thoughts and prayers" were with the people of Lebanon

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan said the city stood with them amid "truly horrifying images" emerging from Beirut.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: "Like everyone who has seen the footage of the devastating explosion in Beirut, I am truly shocked.

"The size and the ferocity of the blast on people and buildings many kilometres away is horrifying. On behalf of the whole House, we send our love and prayers to the people of Lebanon.".

Liberal Democrat acting leader Sir Ed Davey said in a tweet there were "truly awful scenes and in a city that has already seen so much heartbreak"

The explosion comes at a time when Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

It also comes amid rising tensions between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group along Lebanon's southern border.

An Israeli official said said the nation had nothing to do with the explosion amid ongoing clashes between the two nations.

Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli N12 television news that the explosion was most likely an accident caused by a fire

UN spokesman Farhan Haq said: "We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether its accidental or manmade act."

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told a news briefing on Tuesday that the Trump administration is tracking the aftermath but she offered no details about the causes of the blast.

The US State Department said they are ready to offer "all possible assistance" to Lebanon – but once again said it had no information on the cause.

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