Two massive explosions have rocked central Beirut, sending a mushroom cloud of dust into the air, with dozens of people feared dead.
The blasts took place in the Lebanese capital’s port area, which is right next to the busy central Downtown area of the city.
Nearby buildings were severely damaged, with windows blown out and streets covered in shattered glass.
Crowds of stunned people, many of them wounded, gathered outside hospitals in Beirut.
The number of casualties remains unknown, but Lebanon’s Health Minister, Hamad Hasan, said the explosion has caused a “very high number of injuries” and extensive damage.
Evacuation operations are also currently underway, state news agency NNA reported.
AFP news agency, quoting a security source, has reported that ”dozens” have been hurt, but citing the Lebanese Health Ministry, the Al-Mayadeen channel said the number could be in the hundreds.
“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,” a witness told Reuters.
The aftershock was felt in the mountains above Beirut, at least 13 miles away, and was so strong it blew out doors and windows in buildings across the city.
The army has reportedly sent reinforcements to the port.
It is unclear what caused the explosion, but Lebanon’s state news agency NNA and two security sources said the blast had occurred in the port area where there are warehouses housing explosives.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast or what kind of explosives were in the warehouses.
One Twitter user said the blast was felt as far away as Cyprus.
The incident comes at a time of significant economic and political upheaval for Lebanon, with the country facing the worst financial crisis in decades.
Beirut fire: Huge blaze breaks out at site of explosion in Lebanon capital
A huge fire has broken out in Beirut’s port, at the site of a deadly explosion that killed nearly 200 people last month.
Video images show a large column of black smoke billowing into the sky over the Lebanese capital. Port workers, filming the tower of flames and black smoke above the port, could be seen running from the area in panic, with people shouting “go go go, everyone, go!”
The Lebanese army said that a “warehouse of oil and tyres” in Beirut Port’s Free Zone had caught fire and they had joined efforts to extinguish the blaze, including drafting in helicopters.
Helicopters carrying buckets of water were seen flying across the city. Local media reported that the army may soon start evacuating the area.
Michel el-Murr, the head of the fire department search and rescue team, who was at the scene fighting the fire, told The Independent that they had called for back up.
“We don’t own exactly what is burning, we are trying to put out the fire but it is too big, we need a mix of water and foam,” he said.
“We have asked for support, we need the civil defence, and all the fire department crews here now,” he added.