At least 50 people have been killed and 2,700 more injured in a huge explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut, according to the country’s health minister.The prime minister has called it a “big catastrophe” and vowed for those responsible to pay the price for what has happened.George Kettan, head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, added there are victims “everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far” from the blast.
Pictures also showed a scene of devastation with cars upturned and emergency crews gathered around the gutted building.
The explosion appeared to be centred around the city’s port area containing warehouses, and rippled through several areas of the capital.
Lebanon’s internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim said it happened in a building containing highly-explosive materials, according to news agency NNA. Earlier reports had suggested the building was a fireworks storage warehouse.
Witnesses said a number of people were injured during the widespread destruction across the city, with residents reporting collapsed ceilings and shattered windows.
A huge column of smoke was seen rising over the city following the explosion.
Wounded people were seen on the ground near Beirut’s port, according to a photographer at the scene.
Local media also reported one hospital has declared it cannot take any more patients and is appealing for blood donations.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK is “ready to offer help and support” to those affected.
A small number of staff at the country’s embassy in Beirut have been left with non-life threatening injuries and are receiving medical attention, a government spokesperson added.
Israel has said it had “nothing to do with the incident” and humanitarian and medical assistance is being offered as “this is the time to transcend conflict”.
The explosion comes as Lebanon experiences 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.