A huge explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 10 people, injured hundreds and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital yesterday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.
The most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years shook the ground, leaving some residents thinking an earthquake had struck. Dazed and weeping, some of them wounded, people walked through streets checking to see if relatives were hurt.
The blast occurred in the city's port area. Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored there had blown up. Lebanon-based broadcaster Mayadeen cited the country's customs director saying tonnes of nitrate exploded.
Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media initially showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast that sent a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings in other areas of the city were thrown backwards by the shock.
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 today.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze that set off the blast.
An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast.
In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island lying 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession. One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.