Beirut explosion rocks Lebanon's capital city

By Tara John, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner, Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:59 a.m. ET, August 6, 2020
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10:25 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

US defense officials contradict Trump, say no indication of attack in Beirut 

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Nikki Carvajal

President Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday.
President Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. Alex Brandon/AP

Three US Defense Department officials tell CNN that as of Tuesday night there is no indication they have seen that the massive explosions that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday was an attack, as President Trump indicated during a question and answer session with reporters at the White House.  

The officials, who declined to be identified so they could speak freely, said they don’t know what the President is talking about.  

One official pointed out that if there were indications anyone in the region pulled something off of this scale, it would trigger automatic increases in force protection for US troops and assets in the region if for no other reason than worry about retribution attacks. 

The official notes that none of that is happening so far at least.   

Earlier Tuesday, Trump offered sympathy and assistance to the people of Lebanon after the explosions, which left dozens dead and thousands injured, referring to the incident as a “terrible attack.” 

“Let me begin by sending America’s deepest sympathies to the people of Lebanon, where reports indicate that many, many people were killed, hundreds more were very badly wounded in a large explosion in Beirut,” Trump said at a press briefing Tuesday evening. “Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families. The United States ready to assist Lebanon.”

Trump said the country has a “very good relationship with the people of Lebanon and we will be there to help.”

“Looks like a terrible attack,” Trump said, appearing to look up from notes on his podium.

Asked if he was confident if the explosion was an attack and not an accident, the President said it “seems like” it was, based on what US military officials have told him.  

“It would seem like it based on the explosion,” Trump said. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a – some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a – seems to be according to them, they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”

There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port. The director of the general security directorate later said the blast was caused by confiscated "high explosive materials," but did not provide further details.

Lebanese officials have not called the explosion an attack.

7:47 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

Prime minister offers condolences for Australian citizen killed in "horrific blast"

From Angus Watson in Sydney

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed "deep regret" at the death of an Australian citizen who died in the "horrific blast" in Beirut. 

Morrison appeared CNN affiliate Channel 7 Sunrise program on Wednesday and said that he received briefings about the blast but received no information on the cause. 

All of the staff from the Australian Embassy in Beirut are accounted for and have sustained minor injuries like cuts and scratches, Morrison said on Channel 9's Today Show on Wednesday morning local. The building itself has been "impacted significantly," he said.

Morrison said that the image of the blast is "absolutely devastating" and acknowledged that there could be 20,000 Australians present at any one time in Beirut. He went on to say there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who have Lebanese descent.  

"Our hearts really go out to our Lebanese Australian community. I know there’ll be many prayers in the Maronite churches and the mosques in Australia," Morrison told the Today Show broadcast on CNN affiliate Channel 9. 

Morrison said it was not known how many Australians with Lebanese descent were in country as some may have returned due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

7:00 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

At least 78 killed in Beirut blast, health minister says

From CNN’s Samantha Beech

People stand on a pile of rubble in Beirut on August 4.
People stand on a pile of rubble in Beirut on August 4. APAImages/Shutterstock

The death toll from a massive explosion in the capital Beirut on Tuesday had reached 78, Lebanon's health minister has told the Reuters news agency.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan told Reuters that nearly 4,000 people have also been injured.

“There are many people missing until now. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity. We are facing a real catastrophe and need time to assess the extent of damages," Hassan told Reuters. 

The minister earlier said in televised remarks that more than 70 people had been killed.

 

6:35 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

President Trump offers assistance to Lebanon: "We will be there to help"

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump offered sympathy and assistance to the people of Lebanon after an explosion that left dozens dead and thousands injured on Tuesday, referring to the incident as a “terrible attack.” Lebanese officials have not called the explosion an attack.

“Let me begin by sending America’s deepest sympathies to the people of Lebanon, where reports indicate that many, many people were killed, hundreds more were very badly wounded in a large explosion in Beirut,” Trump said at a press briefing Tuesday evening. ”Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families. The United States ready to assist Lebanon.” 

Trump said the country has a “very good relationship with the people of Lebanon and we will be there to help.” 

“Looks like a terrible attack,” Trump said, appearing to look up from notes on his podium.

There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosion, which was initially blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port. The director of the general security directorate later said the blast was caused by confiscated "high explosive materials," but did not provide further details.

Asked if he was confident if the explosion was an attack and not an accident, the President said it “seems like” it was, based on what US military officials have told him. 

“It would seem like it based on the explosion,” Trump said. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a – some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a – seems to be according to them, they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.”

6:02 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

At least one Australian killed in Beirut, prime minister says

From Angus Watson in Sydney

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at least one Australian has been killed in the Beirut blast and the Australian Embassy building has been “significantly compromised."

The prime minister was speaking Wednesday local time on CNN affiliate Channel 7, on the station’s morning program.

Morrison also took to Twitter to express his support to the people of Lebanon. 

5:59 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

German chancellor offers to help Lebanon after explosion

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen and Samantha Beech 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit in Brussels in July.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit in Brussels in July. John Thys/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government is “devastated by the reports and images" coming out of Lebanon, according to her spokesperson Ulrike Demmer.

“Our thoughts are with those who have lost love ones. We wish the wounded a speedy recovery. We will offer Lebanon our help," Merkel said, according to a tweet from Demmer.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also tweeted his support to the people of Lebanon. 

"Terrible scenes out of Beirut after a major explosion. Our hearts go out to those caught up in this tragedy and to our Australian Lebanese community waiting to hear from their loved ones. Australia stands ready to provide our support, including to any Australians affected," the prime minister said.

5:10 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

Beirut explosion generated seismic waves equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Judson Jones

Data collected by the United States Geological Survey shows that the massive explosion in Beirut was so powerful, it created seismic waves equivalent of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.

However, the magnitude 3.3 equivalent isn't, "directly comparable to an earthquake of similar size."

That's because surface type blasts, like the Beirut explosion, don't produce as large a magnitude as an earthquake of similar energy would according to Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center. Blakeman said most of the energy goes into the air and buildings.

"Not enough of the energy is transmitted into the rocks in the ground," he said.

Meaning, if the explosion had occurred below the surface of the earth, the magnitude would have registered even higher.

5:43 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

At least 73 killed in Beirut blast

From CNN's Charbel Mallo

Ambulances drive past the site of the explosion.
Ambulances drive past the site of the explosion. Hassan Ammar/AP

The death toll in the massive blast that shook Beirut has reached 73, the Lebanese national broadcaster TeleLiban reported citing Health Minister Hamad Hassan.

The minister said earlier today that at least 2,750 had been injured in the explosion.

 

4:55 p.m. ET, August 4, 2020

US Embassy in Beirut asks people to wear masks due to reports of toxic gases

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

People ride past a car destroyed after a building wall collapsed on August 4.
People ride past a car destroyed after a building wall collapsed on August 4. Daniel Carde/Getty Images

The US Embassy in Beirut is urging those in the area of the explosion to “stay indoors and wear masks if available” due to reports of toxic gases released from the blast.

An embassy security alert went out following the explosion.

"There are reports of toxic gases released in the explosion so all in the area should stay indoors and wear masks if available," the embassy warned.

The embassy also urged US citizens in the affected areas to "contact their loved ones directly and/or update their status on social media."