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Australian killed in massive Beirut blast

An Australian has been killed in a massive explosion in Beirut where at least 100 people have died and 4000 more have been injured.

A huge blast at a port warehouse district, where 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored, near the centre of Beirut rocked the city early on Wednesday AEST.

Reports suggest the chemical, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures and may have been set off by welding work.

Witnesses reported windows being shattered and buildings damaged 10km from the blast area.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian embassy in the Lebanese capital had been “significantly impacted” but staff escaped without major injuries.

“It’s my deep regret to inform you that one Australian has been killed in this horrific blast,” he told Nine Network.

Mr Morrison said there were usually about 20,000 Australians in the Lebanese capital but he was unsure how many had returned to Australia because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our hearts really go out to our Lebanese Australian community,” the prime minister said.

“I know there will be many prayers in the churches and the mosques in Australia but given the COVID restrictions, I would just urge the appropriate response.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the embassy had considerable damage from the blast.

“About 95 per cent of the windows and front of the chancery of the embassy have been blown out,” she told ABC radio.

“Staff have been affected by a number of glass injuries. Fortunately, they are relatively minor and they have all been treated.”

She announced on Wednesday evening that In response to the disaster Australia would direct $2 million in humanitarian support to Lebanon to help with the recovery.

The funding will consist of $1 million each to trusted aid partners, the World Food Program and the Red Cross movement, to help ensure food, medical care and essential items were provided to those affected by the tragedy.

“Australia and Lebanon have a strong relationship built on extensive community ties, with more than 230,000 Australians having Lebanese heritage. This tragedy will affect many people in both countries,” Ms Payne said.

“Tragically, one Australian has been confirmed killed. We send our sincere condolences to family members and friends.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese expressed his profound sympathy for those impacted.

Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub, who lives 4km from the scene of the explosion, described it as a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble. People’s cars have been crushed under the weight of the rubble.

“People are still trapped in their homes or under buildings that have collapsed.”

She said hospitals were overwhelmed, had to treat patients in parking lots and were running out of medical supplies.

The Lebanese Muslim Association said there was a dire need for international assistance.

“Today is a test of our humanity,” association president Samier Dandan said.

“We call on all people of goodwill to stand together in solidarity.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the embassy was making urgent inquiries of local authorities to establish the full extent of the impact of the incident on Australians.

It said all Australian embassy staff had been accounted for.

Australians who need consular assistance after the Beirut explosion can call (+61) 2 6261 3305 (outside Australia) or 1300 555 135 (inside Australia).

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