A further 300,000 citizens were left homeless by the catastrophe, as hospitals struggled to cope.
According to the report, the blast that ripped through the city’s port area was believed to have been triggered by a welder who caused a fire at the port when patching up a hole to prevent warehouse thefts. This fire then spread to a warehouse containing explosive chemicals and detonated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The resulting explosion is believed to have been one-fifth as powerful as the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
As the dust cleared over the shocked city this morning, survivors picked through the debris looking for victims, with the death toll expected to rise as the search operation continues.
Vast numbers of buildings in the capital have been left without roofs or windows, with others flattened entirely by the force of the explosion.
In a televised speech, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that those responsible for the catastrophe will “pay the price” and declared a two-week state of emergency to deal with the crisis.
Diab did not directly comment on the cause of the blast, but he did promise upcoming announcements about the “dangerous warehouse” thought to be at the root of the explosion.
He described the event as “a real catastrophe” and called for all countries and friends of Lebanon to donate aid to the disaster-struck nation.
According to the Daily Mail, the economic cost of the explosion was estimated to stand at approximately $5 billion, with the nation’s President Michel Aoun having released $66 million in emergency funding as he announced three days of mourning.
Mohamed Khalifeh, a former Lebanese health minister, told Al Jazeera that he was in his house at the time of the explosion.
“I shouted to my family to take care, there’s an earthquake — and immediately, everything collapsed,” he said. “I narrowly escaped this; I left my family and jumped to the hospital to save lives.”
“We are in a very bad situation economically, [there is a shortage of] medical supplies, shortage of everything, we manage to cope, but the devastation is beyond any description.”
Footage of the explosion was widely shared on social media. Videos showed an initial plume of thick gray smoke rising from the port before a gigantic blast shook the city.