Update: The Lebanese president blamed the devastating blast in Beirut on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left in the warehouse unchecked for 6 years.
Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. More than 70 people were killed and 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.
The blast struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany's geosciences center GFZ, and it was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200 kilometers (180 miles) across the Mediterranean.
An Associated Press photographer near the port saw people lying injured on the ground, and hospitals called for blood donations, but exact casualties were not immediately known. Miles from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down, ceiling collapsed and windows were shattered.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear, but initial reports suggested a fire had detonated a warehouse at the port. It came at a time when Lebanon is passing through 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.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended his "deepest condolences" to the people of Beirut and said the United States is closely monitoring the situation. "Our team in Beirut has reported to me the extensive damage to a city and a people that I hold dear, an additional challenge in a time of already deep crisis," Pompeo said in a written statement.
Online video showed a column of smoke rising from the port area from what appeared to be an initial explosion, followed by a massive blast that sent up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave racing over the city. Some local TV stations reported the blast was at Beirut’s port inside an area where fireworks were stored.
Health Minister Hassan Hamad said the preliminary toll was more than 70 dead and more than 3,000 wounded. Emergency teams streamed in from across Lebanon to help, and the injured had to be taken to hospitals outside the capital. Hamad added that hospitals were barely coping and offers of aid were pouring in from Arab states and friends of Lebanon.
Beirut's governor, Marwan Abboud, broke into tears as he toured the site, exclaiming, "Beirut is a devastated city." Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that "those responsible will pay."