A warehouse at the Beirut Port caught fire on Tuesday afternoon, triggering a huge explosion, Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported.
Several smaller explosions were heard before the bigger one occurred.
Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security, said that “highly explosive materials” confiscated earlier had been stored at the site.
Footage shared on social media captured the moment of the bigger explosion, with a colossal shock wave seen traveling fast across several hundreds of meters and shrouding the area in thick smoke.
The blast left enormous material damage to the surrounding buildings and structures. But it was not immediately known how big an area was affected.
There was also no immediate casualty count. Graphic amateur video from the scene showed bodies strewn on the ground, with their clothes blown off.
The NNA said rescue operations were underway. Ambulances were seen heading toward the scene in central Beirut.
Lebanese LBC television channel quoted Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan as saying that the blast had caused a “very high number of injuries” and “extensive damage.”
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said an unspecified number of firefighters dispatched to extinguish the initial fire had been killed in the explosion.
“As they were putting out the fire, the explosion took place and we’ve [lost them],” he said, breaking down on live TV.
The explosion comes at a time when the Arab country is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, and amid rising tensions with Israel.