A MASSIVE explosion has killed at least 78 people and left 4,000 injured after the blast devastated part of Lebanon’s capital Beirut.
Pictures show destroyed buildings, walking wounded, and a sea of rubble after the explosion that could be heard 125 miles away in Cyprus.
The source of the blast is belived to be 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored in a warehouse without safety measures since 2014.
Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a fertilizer, but has also been linked to terror attacks after being used in homemade bombs.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has declared a state of emergency for Beirut for two weeks – and vowed the “harshest punishments” for those responsible.
Nearby structures have been flattened, windows and doors have been blown out, cars have been thrown and 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 have been reported in the aftermath, with the US Embassy warning any Americans in Beirut to stay inside.
Some people are believed to still be trapped under the rubble – including being stuck inside their damaged homes.
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.
Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council convened and declared to carry out the “maximum punishments” for those responsible.
Lebanon’s health minister Hamad Hasan said: “There are many people missing until now.
“People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity.
“We are facing a real catastrophe and need time to assess the extent of damages.”
Damage was reported up to six miles from the explosion, with windows shattered and build facades shredded by the shockwave.
The blast was also heard 125 miles away across the sea in Cyprus.
Beirut’s governor Marwan Abboud compared the blast to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks that killed an estimated 225,000 people.
Fighting back tears as he arrived on 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 Brits have been caught up in the blast.
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..”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added the UK “is ready to offer help and support” to those affected by the blast – including British Nationals.
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.
And 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.”
Witnesses also reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the suspected chemical explosion.
Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.
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 have 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 amidst the fire before the main blast.
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said it started as small bursts like firecrackers.
He was then thrown off his feet as his clothes were torn apart by the explosion.
The country’s powerful Hezbollah movement said all of the country’s political powers must to overcome the “painful catastrophe” unite after the disaster.
A witness said: “Everyone dropped to the ground and I remember opening my eyes and… just seeing dust and a bunch of rubble”
A witness said: “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.”
Pictures show the battered and bloody victims arriving at hospitals in search of treatment after the carnage.
An Associated Press photographer near Beirut’s port saw people lying wounded on the ground and widespread destruction in central Beirut.
American journalist Ben Wedeman also reported live 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: “Our rapid response team stand by prepared to support the government in their efforts in the coming days.”
“The circumstances of the explosion are not yet known, but 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,” it said.
“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
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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.
Meanwhile, the US Pentagon said: “We are aware of the explosion and are concerned for the potential loss of life due to such a massive explosion.”Follow us on social media