Lebanon’s health minister has confirmed 50 deaths following explosions in the country’s capital, with thousands more injured. The blasts are under investigation, with early reports linking it to stored fireworks and chemicals.

Two blasts struck the port area of Beirut, with the first hitting at around 6pm local time. The second appeared much stronger, sending a huge mushroom cloud-shaped plume of smoke and debris high overhead.

Speaking to local media, Health Minister Hamad Hassan initially said more than 30 people have been killed and over 3,000 injured, and later commented that over 50 were killed and 2,700 injured.

The head of the country’s Red Cross warned that the number of casualties was likely to rise.

Graphic footage from the scene showed locals desperately rushing the injured to hospital, while many walking wounded were reportedly turned away to allow the more serious receive treatment. Some videos shared online taken closer to the blast site showed what appeared to be bodies lying on the ground amid charred vehicles and debris.  

Imagine the shockwave coming at you…#BeirutExplosion#LebanonExplosionMORE:

Absolute chaos in #Beirut. Shattered shop fronts, injured people staggering around, alarms going off, ambulances trying to get to hospitals, the floor is glistening with shattered glass. In all my years of covering wars I have never experienced a blast like this.

Another view of the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose own wife and daughter were reportedly injured, described the situation as a catastrophe, and announced a day of mourning. He also said that whoever is responsible for the blasts must be held to account.

“I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,” he stated, in a televised speech. “Those responsible will pay the price.”

Apparently referencing earlier comments by Security Director Abbas Ibrahim that the devastating blast involved stored chemicals, Diab added: “Facts about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014 will be announced and I will not preempt the investigations.”

The PM also issued an urgent appeal for assistance from “neighboring countries that love Lebanon,” saying: “We need your help in any way you can possibly help.”

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