A huge fire broke out on Thursday at the Port of Beirut, the site of last month's catastrophic explosion that killed nearly 200 people and devastated many other areas of the capital.
The new fire nearly 40 days after the blast triggered widespread panic among the traumatized residents of the area.
It wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire at the facility, which was decimated by the August 4 explosion when nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated.
The blast triggered a shock wave that blew up windows, doors and walls miles away and the tremours of which were felt as far away as the island of Cyprus.
A column of thick black smoke billowed from the port at midday on Thursday, with orange flames leaping from the ground. Smoke covered the capital and firefighters and ambulances rushed to the scene. Army helicopters were called upon to extinguish the fire.
“We opened all windows and are in the corridor right now,” said Dana Awad, a mother of two girls in a Beirut neighborhood. "I am still feeling the earth shake. Feels like living a flashback," she added recalling the tremor that preceded the August 4 explosion.
The Lebanese army said that the fire started at a warehouse, where oil and tires were placed in the duty free zone, adding that efforts to battle the fire were ongoing.
Panicked residents, still struggling to get over last month's catastrophic explosion, cracked open windows as they called and texted each other to warn one another of the fire. Local TV stations said companies that have offices near the port have asked their employees to leave the area.
A video circulating on social media showed port workers running away in fear as soon as the fire broke out, a chilling reminder of last month's blast that killed dozens of port employees. Lebanese troops closed the main road that passes near the port rerouting traffic to other areas.
The August 4 explosion killed more than 190 people, injured around 6,500 and damaged thousands of buildings in the Lebanese capital. The explosion, which was the single most destructive blast in Lebanon's history, has been blamed on government negligence and mismanagement.
Earlier this month, the Lebanese army claimed that it discovered more than four tons of ammonium nitrate in four containers stored near the port.
Days after the August 4 blast, French and Italian chemical experts probing the explosion, identified more than 20 containers carrying dangerous chemicals at the port. The army later said that those containers were moved and stored safely in other locations.
State-run National News Agency said that the fire broke out at a warehouse where tires were placed. It added that firefighters are dealing with the blaze.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud and other local authorities urged people to stay away from roads leading to the port to allow fire engines to move quickly.
Port director Bassem al-Qaisi, told Voice of Lebanon radio, 'the fire started in a warehouse where barrels of cooking oil were placed and later spread nearby to where tires were piled'.
“It is too early to know if it is the result of heat or some other mistake,” al-Qaissi said adding that the black smoke was as a result of tires burning.
This is the second fire at the port this week. On Tuesday, a small fire erupted, causing similar panic. It was quickly extinguished.
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