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News24.com | PICS | Massive blast sends seismic shock across Beirut, causing thousands of casualties

A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the centre of Beirut killed more than 25 people, injured over 2 500 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble.

"What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe," the head of Lebanon's Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. "There are victims and casualties everywhere - in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion."

Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 15:00 GMT, a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

A security source said victims were being taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were already packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east were called in to cope with the huge casualty toll.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A helicopter puts

A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanons capital Beirut.

A picture shows the scene of an explosion in Beiru

A large explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Wounded people wai

Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky.

People walk at scene of an explosion in Beirut on

The blast, which rattled entire buildings and broke glass, was felt in several parts of the city.

A wounded man is checked by a fireman near the sce

A wounded man is checked by a fireman near the scene of the explosion.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Lebanese army so

A Lebanese army soldier and a man carry away an injured man at a hospital in the aftermath of the explosion.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A woman clad in ma

A woman clad in mask sits amidst rubble in the Gemmayzeh area following a massive explosion at the nearby port of Beirut.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A woman clad in ma

A man and woman walk with dogs past rubble and destroyed vehicles along in the Gemmayzeh area following the explosion.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Wounded people wai

Wounded people wait to received help outside a hospital.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken

Destruction along a street in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut, following a massive explosion at the nearby port of Beirut.

The blast was so big that some residents in the city, where memories of heavy shelling during the 1975 to 1990 civil war live on, thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and, wounded, people walked through streets searching for relatives.

Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. The minister later told Al Jadeed TV ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast, sending a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (more than a mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

Mourning

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country's Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency's Twitter account. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The explosion occurred three days before a UN-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi'ite group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.

Hariri was killed in another huge blast on the waterfront, although on that occasion it was caused by a truck bomb.

It was not immediately clear what caused Tuesday's blaze that set off the blast.

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