BEIRUT, Aug 5 - Residents of Beirut confronted a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after a massive explosion at the port rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 135 people, wounding thousands and leaving entire city blocks blanketed with glass and rubble.
Smoke still rose from the port, where a towering building of silos was half destroyed, spilling out grain. Hangars around it were completely toppled. The blast knocked out a crater some 200 metres across that filled with seawater � it was as if the sea had taken a bite out of the port, swallowing buildings with it.
Much of downtown was littered with damaged vehicles and debris that had rained down from the shattered facades of buildings.
The explosion killed at least 135 people and wounded about 5,000, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said. The toll could rise further, another official said.
The blast appeared to have been triggered by a fire that touched off a cargo of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port for years, though it was unclear what sparked the fire.
Hitting with the force of an earthquake, it was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was split in half by the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.
There was no evidence the explosion was an attack. Instead, many Lebanese blamed it on decades of corruption and poor governance by the entrenched political class that has ruled the tiny Mediterranean country since the civil war.
Explosives experts and video footage suggested the ammonium nitrate may have been ignited by a fire at what appeared to be a nearby warehouse containing fireworks. Ammonium nitrate is a common ingredient in fertilizer as well as explosives.
Security forces cordoned off the port area. � AP