(Update 2: Changes headline and lede, adds details)
Cairo, Aug 4 (efe-epa).- A powerful explosion caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port area killed dozens – at least – and injured thousands on Tuesday, Lebanon’s worst crisis since 1990.
The blast claimed the lives of at least 63 people and injured another 3,000, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said on condition of anonymity, adding that it left the capital’s hospitals filled with the injured.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab revealed during a meeting with President Michel Aoun that an unguarded shipment of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the powerful explosion.
Eyewitnesses told Efe that windows at homes located more than five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the explosion were shattered and that buildings suffered damage of varying degrees over a radius of more than two kilometers.
Images published on social media showed the explosion and a large mushroom-shaped cloud rising in the sky. Plumes of white- and reddish-colored smoke were then seen in the sky above the port area, which is located on the Mediterranean coast.
Some members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon were among those seriously injured by the explosion, which damaged one of the peacekeeping mission’s boats docked at the port.
Among the fatalities is the secretary general of the Kataeb party, Nazar Najarian, who died from injuries he suffered in the explosion, the party confirmed.
Diab vowed Tuesday that those responsible for the deadly explosion will “pay the price.”
“This catastrophe will not go unpunished,” the head of government said in a brief televised address. “This is a promise to the martyrs and injured.”
Aoun announced that a crisis group had been formed to “face the consequences of the disaster and closely coordinate” with the authorities to manage the aftermath.
Lebanon’s Supreme Council of Defense has declared Beirut “a disaster city” and imposed a two-week state of emergency after an urgent meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, Aoun said that a “great catastrophe” had taken place in Lebanon.
He stressed “the need to investigate what happened and determine the people responsible, especially after security reports indicated that there was explosive and flammable material” being housed at the port.
Meanwhile, Diab vowed that he will not rest until the people responsible for the blast are found, adding that the authorities will “apply the maximum punishment because it is not acceptable that a cargo of ammonium nitrate weighing 2,750 tons has been in a warehouse for six years without preventive measures being taken, endangering the safety of citizens.”
For its part, the Shiite Hezbollah group said in a statement that the “unprecedented destruction and serious consequences at the human, health, social and economic levels require all Lebanese and all political forces and actors to stand together, unite and work to overcome the effects of this cruel disgrace.”
Several Arab countries already have expressed solidarity with the Lebanese government and people, while Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt offered to provide the aid Lebanon could need to deal with the crisis.
The Arab League, meanwhile, stressed the importance of investigating the incident to prevent it from “exacerbating” the crisis the country has experienced, the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The blast, one of the worst in Lebanon’s history, comes a few days before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, looking into a car-bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is set to announce its final verdict.
That international court has accused members of Hezbollah, who are being tried in absentia, of carrying out the assassination. EFE-EPA