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Irish newlyweds reveal miraculous escape from massive blast in Beirut

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A huge mushroom cloud after the port explosion that reduced much of the city to rubble

A huge mushroom cloud after the port explosion that reduced much of the city to rubble

via REUTERS

A huge mushroom cloud after the port explosion that reduced much of the city to rubble

A Wicklow man was among the 5,000 people injured in the horrific explosion that killed at least 135 people in Beirut on Tuesday.

Rescue teams pulled out bodies from the wreckage yesterday, as investigators blamed negligence for the warehouse explosion that sent a devastating shock wave across Beirut.

More than 5,000 people were injured in the explosion and up to 250,000 were left without homes fit to live in.

The Wicklow man told Kathryn Thomas on RTE Radio One's The Ray D'Arcy Show yesterday how he and his bride - who were only just married last week - were in their apartment a kilometre away from the port when he heard a loud blast and thought: "Oh my God, is a war starting?"

Smashed

Despite suffering cuts to his head from shards of glass, he said he and his wife miraculously escaped the blast that blew out a wall in their apartment.

"Of all the people in the radius, we were the luckiest," he said.

Shock waves from the blast smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab has declared three days of mourning from today.

The death toll was expected to rise from the blast, which officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.

The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through a city scarred by a civil war that ended three decades ago and has been reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections.

The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.

President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, after it was seized.

In an address to the nation during an emergency cabinet session, Aoun said: "No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city".

He said the government was "determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable".

The cabinet announced a two-week state of emergency in Beirut and ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest.

Ordinary Lebanese citizens blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.

"This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon. I really blame the ruling class," said Hassan Zaiter, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.

Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still missing.

The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed.

Beirut's Clemenceau Medical Center was "like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts," said Sara, one of its nurses.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said the blast had caused damage worth up to $5 billion, and possibly more, and left up to 250,000 people without homes.

Supplies

Offers of international support have poured in. Gulf Arab states sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies, while Iran offered food and a field hospital.

The US, Britain and France, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered help. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialised search and rescue teams.